Governor Jared Polis waited until the last possible moment to announce a change in his 10 p.m. last-call executive order that expires tonight. A new executive order announced shortly after noon today, August 21, extends liquor sales at on-premises establishments to 11 p.m. beginning Saturday, August 22, and Polis said that could be moved to midnight "within a month."
But is an extra hour enough to give bars and restaurants the extra revenue they so sorely need? That depends on the type of business. For restaurants that only stay open past 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, not much changes. But for bars accustomed to selling booze until 2 a.m., they're still being shorted three hours of potential revenue.
Sean Kenyon, owner of Occidental and Williams & Graham — which just reopened last week — says the extra hour won't have much of an effect on sales, especially at Occidental. "We normally do 60 percent of our business between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m.," the bar owner notes, adding that Occidental is a favorite of industry employees who make the place a stop after getting off work at the many restaurants in the neighborhood — at least before the pandemic hit.
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And it's not just the minor change to last call (he was hoping for midnight) that angers Kenyon; it's the way that bars are being portrayed as irresponsible by the governor, and how they're treated as a result. "One thing he's done that infuriates me is waiting until the last minute, taking it to the eleventh hour — it's messing with our scheduling, with our money and with our psyche," he explains.
Not only are bars left scrambling to fill extra hours at the last minute, Kenyon continues, but the last-call restriction "is saying we can't manage our own safety." He's fully on board with the efficacy of masks, social distancing, regular temperature checks for staff (he's even instituted weekly COVID testing for all of his employees) and other measures that have helped lower the case numbers in Colorado, but he also points out that "we're already going the extra mile, but nothing changes in the way we manage things after 10 or 11."
Kenyon's point is that his bar is as safe at 1 a.m. as it is at 9 p.m., but he realizes that's not the case at all bars, so he'd like to see the perpetrators (especially those who let too many customers in the door at once) be held responsible and then allow municipalities to make decisions about hours, since circumstances for bars and restaurants are not the same across the entire state. He's seen inspectors out in force in the LoHi neighborhood, and thinks that enforcement of mask and social distancing rules is a better approach than arbitrary last-call times.
In fact, bars have been ticketed and even closed for failure to comply with COVID-related restrictions. Recent mandatory bar and club closures include Williams Tavern at 423 East 17th Avenue (unrelated to Williams & Graham), the Welcome Inn at 3659 Chestnut Place, and Your Mom's House at 608 East 13th Avenue.