Editor’s note: This story has been updated to add new information that Olive or Twist has applied for a restaurant conditional permit.
Some Baton Rouge bar owners feel they are being unfairly lumped into a category where their bars don’t belong with Gov. John Bel Edwards’ latest mandate to temporarily close bars.
The order shutters bars statewide until July 24, which could be extended or further restricted due to the growing case numbers in the state.
But you’ve probably noticed some bars are still open around town. That all comes down to permitting, according to the order.
The order closed bars that have only Class-A general alcohol permits. If a bar has a restaurant conditional permit, which allows it to operate between the hours of 7 a.m. and 11 p.m., it may remain open as a restaurant.
Olive or Twist falls into the category of bars forced to shut down, despite having a full food menu and sit-down dining area. Owner Scott Gremillion says his establishment, along with similar bars, should not have been closed. Patrons at Olive or Twist were required to socially distance and act in the same manner as patrons of a restaurant.
“If you go to my establishment, you’ll see that we’re set up a little differently. We had tables and bar stools properly distanced,” Gremillion says. “We were at the proper capacity limits for Phase Two. We were not allowing customers to stand and hover at the bar. So, we’re set up like any other restaurant that has a bar.”
Olive or Twist, which spent Phase One and most of Phase Two remodeling, had reopened just two days before the new order went into effect.
The governor’s order comes after more than 100 new cases of COVID-19 in Baton Rouge were traced to bars in Tigerland in June. Owners of smaller bars around town have repeatedly said they do not want to be categorized with Tigerland-style bars.
Gremillion says Olive or Twist has applied for a restaurant conditional permit and hopes to reopen by this weekend. In the meantime, though, he cites other bar owners who share his sentiments, including Churchill’s owner Mark Dennis.
Dennis did not respond to requests for comment in time for today’s 225 Dine deadline, but in a public Facebook post he says he feels one group of bars is being singled out.
He writes, “I understand the resurgence of [COVID-19] and the fact that we need to do what we can to contain it. … However, closing down bars and then having people not stay home but go to other bars aka restaurants and crowding together on patios, in courtyards, and other areas is not addressing the problem.”
On the other hand, bars like The Bulldog Baton Rouge have been able to stay open. The establishment only operates as a restaurant—not a bar—during this time, according to two of the owners, Alex Wilder and Eddie Dyer.
The owners applied for a restaurant conditional permit in May in the beginning of Phase Two. It was not a major change, as the establishment already has a full kitchen and is known for its food, Wilder says. But he and Dyer agree that being able to stay open and operate solely as a restaurant has its downsides, too.
“Food is an investment, and you don’t make much money, if anything, from food,“ Wilder says. “But we all do it to please our customers.“
Dyer and Wilder believe that while some bars should have been allowed to stay open, others who change their business model to add food options because of the order should not.
“If there’s a place that’s similar to us; that has food and delivery and all of that,“ Dyer says, “they should be allowed to.“
The governor will host a press conference at 2:30 p.m. today to make an announcement regarding the Phase Two order, currently set to expire Friday, July 24—and it’s certain that bars will be listening in.