The Bar Is Open Again in New Orleans

When it comes to the great party cities in the United States, New Orleans holds its own with anybody.

And when it comes to the great party neighborhoods—The Strip in Las Vegas, Hell’s Kitchen in New York, Beale Street in Memphis—few can match The French Quarter in N’awlins.

So it was something of a national holiday on Saturday when bars were able to reopen in The Big Easy for the first time in more than two months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

As with any reopening around the country, it’s being done in phases. For the moment, restaurants can open at 25 percent capacity. As for true bars and drinking establishments, only those with food permits are allowed to open during the current Phase 2 of four phases.

Dr. Jennifer Avegno, the city’s health director, issued the same precautions for New Orleans as her colleagues have for every other locale in the country.

“If you’re there with your household group and you’re having drinks at a table at a bar, we really need you not to go off and mingle with the other tables,” she said.

Shelley Waguespack, manager for one of The Quarter’s most famous bars, Pat O’Brien’s, said she did not open in part out of fear the coronavirus is still active. She’s hoping the Louisiana State Legislature will address one concern—liability. Waguespack is worried about getting sued if someone who visits the bar later comes down with COVID-19.

She also isn’t pleased about music being prohibited. Yep, you can’t have New Orleans without live music and unfortunately, the reopening has not included live music to anybody’s ears right now. And that has led some establishments, like Pat O’Brien’s and the famous Maple Leaf, to skip reopening at all at this time.

“While our city leaders have decided to allow bars to reopen…we will not be allowed to have Live Music and what is the Leaf without our musicians?” according to a post on the Maple Leaf’s Facebook page.

And don’t think it’s not impacting people.

Rollin “Bullet” Garcia Sr., owner of Bullet’s Sports Bar in the Seventh Ward, said he feels caught between the financial imperative to reopen and the fear of renewed virus spread, he told NOLA.com.

Bullet’s is one of the longest-running black-owned bars in the city and known for its music nights.

“I just don’t know what I’m supposed to do at 25 percent (capacity) when someone who’s been coming here for years turns up and I’m already at my cap. How’s he going to feel about that?” he said. “What is social distancing at a bar anyway?”

In addition to bars, the Riverwalk and several of its shops are open, as is Harrah’s Hotel and Casino.

“We are actually going above and beyond to the extent that we can,” Frank Quinn, General Manager at the Outlet Collection at Riverwalk, said. “We have placed signage throughout the entire center. We have people at every entrance not only informing our guests of the policies but also giving out masks to anyone who does not bring one.”

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