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Some bar owners hesitant to reopen ahead of potential state approval

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BATON ROUGE – In less than 24 hours bars in East Baton Rouge Parish could be back open.

Many bar owners have had to keep their doors closed for months due to state COVID-19 restrictions. While they are excited to see customers again, there is still some frustration.

“We’ve never dealt with these types of restrictions in a bar atmosphere,” Brian Ott, the owner of The Basin, said.

If the parish coronavirus positivity rate is five percent or less over a two-week span, bars can reopen with the parish government's consent and some restrictions. Those restrictions include an indoor capacity of 25% or 50 people, whichever is less, closing at 11 p.m., and live music is banned.

“People don't realize the trickle-down effect. We have the bands who support themselves on live music, that trickles down to the sound guy who makes his living doing that on a nightly basis, to the sound engineers, to everyone else it takes to put on shows. No one seems to notice they have been out of jobs for 7 months also,” Ott said.

Ott says he’s not preparing to open up until the final word from the Louisiana Department of Health comes Wednesday. He says he’s been burned in the past doing that.

“Right when this whole thing started we ordered a bunch of inventory for two private parties that we had to shut down. When we reopened in June we restocked everything because the beer was out of date, and sure enough, we had to do it again and throw all of the beer away,” Ott said.

Darin Adams, the owner of Reggie’s and JL’s, two bars in Tigerland, says he's done some prep work.

“[Monday] we went through again and cleaned everything up and disinfected everything again to get it ready to go,” Adams said.

Adams says if his doors are open again though, he will have significantly fewer customers in his establishments than years past.

“We usually, on a home football game, have a tent outside and we have an upwards of thousands of people. So now for an upcoming football game, we’ll have 50 people inside and 50 people outside. That’s one-tenth of our normal business,” Adams said.

Adams plans to reopen Thursday if given the okay. Ott will reopen his bar on Friday at the earliest. He says there is a risk.

“They don’t give us much to work with, and by doing that we’re putting our liquor license at risk because if we violate these rules they are going to come take our license for 30 to 60 days and a $1,500 fine. Is it worth it to open? We don’t know yet. It depends on what these new rules are Wednesday, which hopefully we will find out are somewhat in our favor,” Ott said.

Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome has already requested approval from the state to allow bars to reopen, and the metro council has a special meeting set for Wednesday, Sept. 30, at 4 p.m. to formally allow in-person consumption in bars. They’re waiting for the latest COVID-19 numbers from LDH before then.


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