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Linda White, who owns The Jefferson Lounge located at 4336 Floynell Drive, talks about what she expects while getting the bar ready to open. East Baton Rouge Parish bars are now able to go back to business after the coronavirus rate fell below 5%.

Linda White said while she’s pleased the number of coronavirus cases in East Baton Rouge has dropped enough that she can reopen her bar, The Jefferson Lounge, she’s disappointed with the rules she’s going to be operating under.

“We’re a small place, so we can only get 15 people in here,” she said. “We can’t have a pool table, even though the pool halls are open.”

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White said she hopes to reopen the neighborhood bar on Thursday. She partially opened The Jefferson Lounge right after Labor Day, when she started offering curbside service.

“That wasn’t successful at all,” she said. White said selling curbside drinks was bringing in 80% less than what the bar normally does. “But at least it was a little bit of income,” she said. “I was able to pay some bills with it.”

Bars that don’t sell food have been largely shut down since early March as part of an effort to control the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. The bars briefly reopened in June, when the state moved into Phase 2 of the pandemic recovery. But Gov. John Bel Edwards shut down the bars several weeks later, in mid-July, after a rise in coronavirus cases.

Edwards set new rules to allow for bar openings in Phase 3. Parishes with 5% or less test positivity over two consecutive weeks can seek to have their bars reopen for on-premises alcohol consumption.

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With the looser rules, bars and other alcohol-serving establishments can operate with table service at 25% capacity with up to 50 patrons until 11 p.m.

White said she’s had to dip into her savings to keep The Jefferson Lounge going during the months it was closed. She said it costs $4,000 to cover her monthly expenses.

“I’ll take anything I can get at this point,” she said. “It’s been financially draining for me.”

She expects once The Jefferson Lounge can reopen, her regulars will return. “I figure there are 15 people who will come here every day,” she said.

Ross Cook, one of the owners of Bogie’s, said he’s “chomping at the bit” to open his LSU-area bar. “We’re going to open the first hour they allow us to,” he said.

When Bogie’s bought its point of sale system, it was fortunate to get one that included wireless handheld devices. So the plan is to have two servers taking drink orders in the crowd, since the new regulations don’t allow for customers to order beverages at the bar.

The regulation shutting off alcohol sales at 11 p.m. will be an issue, Cook said, because the crowd at Bogie’s doesn’t start up until 10 p.m. or so. But Cook said the biggest problem is that he’s only going to have 12 employees working once the bar reopens, as opposed to the 40 or so people who used to be on the payroll.

“That really, really stinks,” he said. “We’re hoping we can hire more people as our capacity goes up to 50% and 75%.”

Cook said the important thing is that bars are allowed to get back open and help things get back to normal. “That’s what people are looking for right now,” he said.

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