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A bartender works behind the bar, Friday, July 31, 2020, during phase two of businesses reopening during the coronavirus pandemic at Bistro Byronz in Baton Rouge, La. Businesses said they were disappointed with Gov. John Bel Edwards’ decision to keep most bars closed and cut off alcohol sales at 10 p.m. as part of the ongoing effort to control the spread of the coronavirus.

Businesses said they were disappointed with Gov. John Bel Edwards’ decision to continue to keep most bars closed and cut off alcohol sales at 10 p.m. as part of the ongoing effort to control the spread of the coronavirus.

“We were so excited about going into Phase 3, but we’re not so excited today,” said Brad Watts, who owns Kalurah Street Grill, Cecelia and The River Room.

Now that the state is in Phase 3 of the coronavirus reopening, restaurants can open to 75% capacity. Casinos are still being held to 50% capacity. But Edwards announced a new regulation Friday that cuts off liquor sales at 10 p.m.

While he did allow bars to open, only parishes with a 5% or less positive rate for the virus for two consecutive weeks will be able to opt in. According to the state Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, as of Friday only Bienville, Jefferson Davis, Orleans, Plaquemines and St. John the Baptist parishes have 5% positive rate or less.

Even if East Baton Rouge met the standard to allow an opt in for bar openings, Watts said he wouldn’t reopen The River Room. The capacity would be limited to 25%, which would be about 30 customers, he said. And the downtown lounge is popular with service industry workers, who don’t get off the clock until after 10 p.m.

Kalurah Street Grill and Cecelia had both been closed since early March, until Watts opened them this week in anticipation of going into Phase 3. Watts said he wanted to make sure he could have enough customers to make it financially worthwhile to reopen. He said the reopening costs were reminiscent of what he spent to get the two properties started.

“No one got hit harder by this than restaurants and bars,” he said. “If there’s a spike in cases and we have to move backward to having closings again, it will be devastating.”

Wade Duty, executive director of the Casino Association of Louisiana, said he was disappointed with the decision to not allow gambling halls to go up to 75% of capacity. Duty said that was a result of the “blind spots” caused by Hurricanes Marco and Laura, which disrupted testing across the state in late August.

Duty said he’s worried cutting off alcohol service after 10 p.m. will lead to a loss of revenue for casinos. “Any time you start subtracting amenities, it is a concern,” he said. Properties will have to start promoting other amenities, such as their food service.

Pamela Sandoz, who owns The Bookstore, a neighborhood bar on Airline Highway, said the decision to keep most bars closed was an unfair and unconstitutional singling out of an industry that will lead to impending bankruptcies and financial ruin. Bars that don’t serve food were shut down in mid-March, but allowed to reopen in early June when the state moved into Phase 2. However, Edwards shut down the bars due to rising coronavirus cases in mid-July.

Chase Lyons, owner of Soji, said going into Phase 3 won’t have much impact on his Mid City Asian restaurant. Because of how the restaurant is laid out, he won’t be able to get in any more customers while maintaining social distancing guidelines. While Soji previously had a number of late night activities on weekends, such as DJ sets and Tiki drink specials, since the pandemic the restaurant has been shutting down at 10 p.m.

Enrique Pinerua, who co-owns the downtown restaurant, Cocha, also said he’s not planning on making any changes. Cocha has been operating at 25% capacity since it was allowed to reopen.

“We’re really sensitive about our customers,” he said. “We’re not in any rush to add any tables to our small restaurant.”

Cocha had the good fortune to start working on adding outdoor seating long before the pandemic hit. Now there’s room for 20 customers outside, even with tables 7 feet apart. That, along with the 34 seats inside has helped the restaurant stay afloat. “We’re really lucky,” Pinerua said. “When we’re open, all our tables are full.”


Email Timothy Boone at tboone@theadvocate.com.