Six months into the pandemic, bars in New Orleans remain fully shut down. They can’t even serve drinks to-go, a privilege bar owners and patrons enjoyed long before the pandemic made that type of service commonplace nationwide. It’s also a service that can be offered safely under current our circumstances.
The city’s ban on to-go drinks — in effect since late July — has not prevented groups from congregating outdoors, its stated intention. People can still find ways to gather while enjoying drinks purchased at any liquor store, grocery, gas station, pharmacy, or corner store.
The only way for bars to do any business at all right now is to apply for a restaurant permit and do on-premise food and drink sales. The closing of Tracey’s Original Irish Channel Bar and Willie’s Chicken Shack for violating coronavirus rules shows that restaurants can breed environments that are significantly more dangerous than selling drinks to-go. Furthermore, obtaining a restaurant permit isn’t an option for many bars.
None of this makes any sense. As a bar owner, I agreed with the steps that the city and state took for most of the pandemic, and I was vocally supportive. When they shut down bars for on-premise sales a second time, I was still on board. I just wanted to serve drinks out the front door. Then they shut that service down to try to rein in outdoor gatherings. I stayed quiet and thought, “Okay, let’s see if it works.” It didn’t.
To be clear, this isn’t really about me. My bars, Twelve Mile Limit and The Domino, will be fine. Both have kitchens and are either open now or will be in the coming weeks. It’s about all of the other bars that don’t have the same privileges that I do. This city is teetering on the brink of an historic loss of bars – businesses that are cornerstones of this community.
At this point, there’s no sensible reason for us to continue on our current path. I’m done being quiet. It’s time to let us serve drinks to-go.
Please sign and share this petition if you agree.
T. Cole Newton is the owner of Twelve Mile Limit in Mid City and the Domino in the Bywater. Cole moved to New Orleans to volunteer with AmeriCorps after Hurricane Katrina before pivoting to a career in the service industry. In addition to his work in bars, Cole still volunteers extensively, sitting on the Boards of Directors of the New Orleans Women and Children’s Shelter and the United States Bartenders’ Guild.
The Opinion section is a community forum. Views expressed are not necessarily those of The Lens or its staff. To propose an idea for a column, contact Opinion Editor Amy Stelly at [email protected].