When Poncey-Highland bar The Righteous Room reopens after a five-month closure on September 2, it will be without the option to drink or dine inside. The bar is shifting its entire operation outdoors, which now includes seating on the small front patio, at tables along the sidewalk, and in an area behind the building. No one other than staff is permitted inside, even to use the restroom.
Located in the Plaza Theatre complex, the Righteous Room has long been a popular post-shift spot for Atlanta’s bartenders and people working within Georgia’s television and film industry. Both industries have been hit hard by unemployment stemming from pandemic shutdowns and closures. Kelly Hart and her partners weighed the significant challenges and complications of how and when to reopen the Righteous Room for weeks before finally pulling the trigger. A much-needed PPP loan helped cover the bar’s rent and the staff’s wages for about three months while they tried to formulate a reopening plan.
“We were going to open in July, and then the cases started to spike in Georgia. We ultimately decided to stay put for the safety of our employees and our patrons. That gave us time to really think about how we were going to do this,” Hart says. “We finally decided opening outside was the only safe option. Thankfully, our landlord allowed us to use space in front of Urban Outfitters and a back space that’s pretty much vacant for extra seating.”
Under the governor’s current COVID-19 safety requirements, Georgia bars are allowed to reopen at 35-percent capacity. No more than six people are allowed to sit together. But, the scenario leaves bar owners, like Hart, wrangling with how to operate safely and still turn a profit, especially when the industry centers around gathering in intimate spaces over drinks and conversation.
Hart realizes the Righteous Room also faces an uphill battle with Atlanta’s weather. Heat and humidity often make it untenable to sit outside comfortably, and the seemingly daily thunderstorms popping up could wash out an entire afternoon or evening. She hopes to open the bar for limited seating indoors by November, right when the weather in Atlanta begins to turn colder. Masks will be required.
For now, Hart and her partners plan to take advantage of Atlanta’s long patio season and put greater emphasis on the bar’s food and newly launched takeout service in hopes of making ends meet. Hart says, they just want to focus on getting the bar up and running again and their employees back to work, many of whom have been with the Righteous Room for years.
“We feel like our employees are going to be really safe, but I’m still worried for them. All of these safety measures, being socially distanced from customers, and not being able to really strike up conversations with people, I worry it will affect tips,” Hart explains. “People expect a certain level of service, but they need to understand they can’t get that right now with this pandemic. We are a tiny bar. We’ve always been busy. But this is operating at a level we’ve never seen before and we’re flying by the seat of our pants. That’s scary.”
Open Monday - Thursday, 4 p.m. to 12 a.m.; Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. to 12 a.m.; Sunday, 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. To order takeout, call 404-874-0939.
1051 Ponce De Leon Avenue, Atlanta. stayrighteous.com.