Drinking in the Sunshine: Athens County Bars Welcome Customers Back to Outdoor Areas< < Back to
ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — The day before Ohio bars and restaurants were allowed to reopen outdoor seating, the owners of the Smiling Skull Saloon were busy.
Of course, it stands to reason that the owners of any bar would have a busy day. But, as they prepared to welcome customers back after two months, there was a lot of work to finish. The sound of drills and hammers punctuated the conversation between Adrienne Whitney and Locke Wolf, who own the bar their father opened almost 27 years ago.
“This is the first time we’ve been closed since the bar opened in August of ‘93,” Whitney said. “We’ve been open 365 days a year since ‘93, never been closed a single day. When we closed on March 15 it was a pretty big deal, but it gave us the opportunity to do a lot of stuff.”
This included a deep clean behind the bar area, remodeling the walk-in freezer, re-framing photos, and painting the walls and trim.
For now, Skull patrons must take their drinks out on the patio, and employees must follow state guidelines to protect themselves and customers. Bars and restaurants may resume indoor seating on May 21.
Whitney said the Skull made some changes to make sure customers could stay six feet apart.
“We had a Pac-Man machine, we moved that out (Wednesday) so that we could make room for more seats,” she explained.
She said she will be glad to see familiar faces back again, but added that even with increased cleaning procedures and people staying 6 feet apart, COVID-19 may still continue to spread in Athens County.
“I want to be conscientious,” she said. “There’s still potential for a big spike in cases.
“We’ll see how it goes, I just hope people are respectful of the boundaries.”
At noon on Friday, about ten people sat on the Skull’s three-tiered patio, sharing conversation and appearing glad to be in the sunshine with familiar faces.
Inside, Whitney dictated specifics of the new guidelines to a bartender who was preparing to write them down on a sign. Another bartender, Michelle Whiteside, cut lemons behind the bar. Whiteside said she has been a “Skulltender” since August 2019.
“I haven’t seen any of the regulars,” she said from behind her protective mask. “I’m used to seeing them every day and it’s been two months, so I’m just excited to see everybody even if it’s at a distance.”
‘Doing everything that you can’
Around 2 p.m. Friday, the sun was still shining on the refurbished beer garden at Eclipse Company Store in The Plains.
Employee Ashton Wise wore a mask and gloves as she carried three beers out and set them on a table for Jeff and Wendy Kaaz, who sat at a picnic table with their friend Bruce Steenrod. The three had been hoping to vacation with friends last month until the pandemic stonewalled their plans.
“Our whole group had a planned trip to Mexico, Los Cabos, in mid-April and we’re still waiting to reschedule,” Jeff explained.
“It’s a crazy world right now,” Wendy said. “Who knows what it’s going to be like next week or the week after?”
They even had t-shirts printed for the trip. The catchphrase? #WashYourHands, #Don’tBeNasty.
“This thing has opened up a whole lot of people’s eyes to personal hygiene,” Steenrod said. “I wash my hands and sanitize more than ever in my life.”
A sprinkle of rain prompted the trio to move to a table on the stage at Eclipse, which may go without performers for some time. General manager Tristen Phipps said she does not know when live music will return, and added Eclipse may continue live-streaming some shows online. The bar/restaurant featured bluegrass group The Coal Cave Hollow Boys on Facebook last Friday.
Eclipse Company Store was closed for more than a month before re-opening the kitchen for online and carryout orders. For now, if the weather cooperates, customers can enjoy food and drink outside.
“It’s just a matter of adjusting and figuring out, you know, what the best practices are,” she said.
Phipps said it felt good to see customers again, but added there was “a sense of nervousness.”
“It’s not normal,” she said. “And you’re just trying to be hypervigilant and make sure that you’re doing everything that you can to keep customers and employees safe, so it does feel good but it’s extra responsibility in addition to the responsibility of running a business.”
Phipps added that customers are asked to wear a mask if they go inside to use the bathroom, or if they interact with employees who are cleaning outside.
“We’re really excited to be able to find a new way to do business and we’re happy to see the support from our customers, we’re overwhelmed in the best way. It feels really good to find a way to serve our customers again.”