‘It can’t be a party atmosphere’: Bars, restaurants downtown reopen with changes

MADISON, Wis. – With the beautiful weather and return of pedestrians downtown, it nearly looked like business as usual Tuesday, as customers began returning to bars and restaurants.

As early as 3 p.m., there was a line outside Chasers Bar & Grille on W. Gorham St. Patio tables on State St. sat ready for customers. But inside establishments, patrons could find plenty of changes since bars and restaurants were shut down on March 17.

“It was the worst moment of my life,” said Pat Dye of learning Mackesey’s Irish Pub had to close its doors in the middle of St. Patrick’s Day, usually the biggest holiday of the year for the bar.

Dye worked there 26 years, meeting his wife there years ago.

“I said, ‘I gotta do something. I’ll quit pretending to be your boyfriend.’ She said, ‘You don’t have to quit,’” Dye said. “A year later we were walking here on a nice light snowy day, and I dropped to my knee.”

Dye’s wife bought the bar last April. They had to stay closed during the one-year anniversary of the purchase.

“It’s been tough,” Dye said. “Until today we had two more months and her dream was shattered and we were going to have to give it up.”

He’s relieved to be open again, even at 25% capacity, which realistically translates to about 15 customers.

“It can’t be a party atmosphere in here, so it’s going to be different,” Dye said. “Let’s take it easy, go slow.”

Changes include several CDC signs, distanced bar stools, face shields available for employees, frequent cleaning of seats and restrooms, sidewalk markings so those outside keep properly separated — even turning down the music to reduce water droplets from people speaking loudly.

Down the street at Nick’s Restaurant, owner Dino Christ said they’re following safety guidelines, as well. That means no condiments on tables and seating customers so they’re far enough apart. Carryout has been tough, so he’s looking forward to welcoming diners back.

“It’s like reopening a new business,” Christ said. “In the beginning, we want to make sure everything’s done correctly, safely, and we’ll go from there.”

“We’ve been talking about getting out for a while,” said Scott Frey, who stopped at the Irish Pub with his friend, Steve Carroll. “It’s unique seeing people again in communal spaces.”

“It’s really important for us to try to put a couple dollars here and there to stimulate things,” Carroll said.

Having customers back gives Dye hope for the pub’s future.

“Being reopen has at least shown us the light at the end of the tunnel,” Dye said.