Bar lights are flickering from the pandemic

Since July 1, bars that do not serve food have been required to stay closed apart from patio service.
exterior of paul's club
Photo by Patrick Stutz

On St. Patrick’s Day, Paul’s Club had a fully stocked bar in preparation for a fun night during one of the bar’s busiest days. But before anyone could stop in, they were completely shut down at 5 p.m. in accordance with an order from Gov. Tony Evers.

Ann Marie Traino-Frickelton, one of the owners of Paul’s Club, says that loss really hurt her business, but luckily many distributors were willing to take back the inventory. After the closure, Paul’s Club stayed completely closed until June 10 when it reopened its doors, but just 21 days later, on July 1, its doors closed once again and have stayed closed since with the exception of patio dining.

“It’s killing us. I’ll be really honest. We’ve expanded our patio. The Streatery Program has been wonderful, but as you and I well know, we live in Wisconsin and snow’s coming,” Traino-Frickelton says.

On July 1, Public Health Madison & Dane County issued emergency order No. 7, which closed all indoor access to bars. Bars are considered places where the sale of alcohol accounts for 51% or more of business. After the order, people were only allowed to enter bars to order, pick up or pay for food and drinks. The city is currently on Emergency Order No. 9, but the restrictions on taverns from the previous two orders still apply.

When the decision to completely close bars was made, PHMDC reported that 35% of people with positive coronavirus cases who were interviewed from June 20 through June 26 said they had visited a bar. At the time it represented “the largest time- and location-bound clusters of the epidemic so far.” With the time spent at bars and socializing, PHMDC says bars create challenging environments for COVID-19.

“Louder environments and the cacophony of conversation that are typical in bar settings and mass gatherings often require raised voices and greater projection of oral-emitted viral droplets,” according to emergency order No. 7. “In their totality, these factors present a higher likelihood of transmission of the coronavirus within groups, between groups and among the workforce.”

While the interior of Paul’s Club has been closed, Traino-Frickelton has tried to make the most of the patio, which seats a maximum of 30 people. Over the summer, she participated in the Streatery Program to have an expanded patio on State Street on the weekends.

“We’ve been in business 65 years and we had a fire in ’93 in which we rebuilt, and then we moved in 2012, but I never saw this coming,” Traino-Frickelton says. “As a business owner on State Street, I’m very frustrated being in Dane County. … It’s just very frustrating not to know if your business is going to go out of business.”

Traino-Frickelton ultimately launched a GoFundMe page at the end of September. She says she will follow any health guidelines required just to give her business a chance to survive.

“When the college kids came back, and then COVID went up … everybody’s blaming the bars. Well you close the bars without food down, but the numbers still keep on going up,” Traino-Frickelton says.

Pauls Club1

Prior to the pandemic, Paul’s Club was frequently busy with people as seen in this picture from 2016. (Archive Photo/Thomas Yonash)

The Plaza Tavern, The Ivory Room Piano Bar, The Irish Pub and I/O Arcade Bar have also launched GoFundMe pages this year to try to stay afloat. Plaza was able to raise more than its goal of $75,000. I/O Arcade Bar has pivoted to offering private rentals as a way to bring in business.

Traino-Frickelton is especially frustrated because there hasn’t been any indication of when the bars will reopen, and she says they need 25% capacity to hold on.

“Not many people even want to go eat inside a restaurant right now,” Traino-Frickelton says. “What’s going to happen in a few months? Is our other window closing on just even having anybody in our bar that wants to come in a bar?”

As winter approaches, she says she’s hoping to keep Paul’s Club open. Paul’s Club is now allowing private parties with a maximum of 10 people.

The majority of business is traditionally done May through December, so even in a normal year January, February and March are tight months. Without the success of those previous months, there’s no cushion entering the most difficult season.

“We’ve got a long road ahead of us, that’s all I can say,” Traino-Frickelton says. “January to March, you’re going to see so many restaurants go out of business.”

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