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Georgia Bars and Nightclubs Can Reopen June 1 But With Strict Capacity Limits

Bars and nightclubs across the state can reopen on June 1, but must comply with 39 mandatory safety requirements

The SOS Tiki Bar S.O.S Tiki Bar
Beth McKibben is the editor and staff reporter for Eater Atlanta and has been covering food and cocktails locally and regionally for 12 years.

Gov. Brian Kemp is allowing Georgia’s bars and nightclubs to reopen for business on Monday, June 1. Like restaurants across the state, bars must follow 39 mandatory safety requirements in order to reopen, including screening workers for COVID-19 symptoms, limiting capacity to 25 people or 35 percent of total occupancy, allowing parties of no more than six people, and only serving drinks within designated areas or to seated patrons. It appears the COVID-19 requirements for Georgia’s restaurants open for dine-in service will also continue.

During the Thursday afternoon press conference, the governor extended Georgia’s public health emergency through July 12 and urged people to wear masks in public. He also increased public gatherings from ten to 25 people, as long as groups continue to follow social distancing guidelines of six feet or more between individuals not members of the same household.

“We strongly encourage all Georgians and visitors to wear face coverings to help mitigate viral spread, and restrictions remain intact for nearly every Georgia business.”

Some Atlanta bar owners have expressed concerned over what reopening will mean for their businesses, especially with the anticipated state-mandated capacity limits, social distancing measures, and the lack of ability to offer substantial takeout options due to Georgia’s strict liquor laws.

“It’s a super absurd situation to be in, which is why many folks have already gone out of business,” Alphonzo Cross, owner of Castleberry Hill cocktail den Parlor, told Eater. “Restaurants can do takeout, but people don’t exactly drink by way of takeout. They don’t experience a cocktail by takeout.”

Grant Henry, the owner of Edgewood Avenue bar, Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room & Ping Pong Emporium (known as “Church”,) worries bars won’t be able to sustain enough business while following the mandatory and “yet necessary” measures needed to keep staff and patrons safe.

The governor began rolling back restrictions on restaurants across the state in mid-May, including increasing the party size at restaurants from six to ten people per table and the dining capacity from ten patrons per 500 square feet to ten patrons per 300 square feet. As of April 27, Georgia restaurants can reopen for dine-in service as long as they follow a set of 39 health and safety requirements. These include requiring employees to wear masks and limiting seating capacity in the dining room and on patios.

Earlier this week, 21 restaurants and bars located in the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood signed a voluntary pledge to follow safety measures that go above and beyond the state’s reopening requirements. The Old Fourth Ward Pledge to Public Health comprises of 25 additional health and safety measures and includes guidance from the Georgia State Board of Cosmetologists and Barbers, the CDC, and best practices from other cities and countries.

For restaurants and bars, the pledge features safety measures, like requiring masks be worn upon entering and exiting and temperature checks for customers, providing lids and straws for drinks at bars, and installing an alarm to remind employees to regularly sanitize high-touch surfaces and wash their hands.

“It was important for us to create this pledge with multiple tiers of safety measures for our neighborhood businesses to go above and beyond state guidelines, which fall short in achieving this goal,” Noni’s Deli owner Matt Ruppert said of the pledge.

Old Fourth Ward businesses can choose to implement one or more of the three tiers in the safety plan, which closely follows the five-phase reopening plan created by Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

Stay home if sick. Check the Georgia Department of Public Health website for guidance and updates on the latest number of reported COVID-19 cases. Numbers are now updated three times a day.