Photos taken by a passerby Saturday afternoon show the patio of Pour Taproom at SPX Alley along the Eastside trail packed with maskless people sitting and standing in front of the business. The Eastside Beltline and its restaurants and bars often see large crowds on warm, sunny weekends. Temperatures this past Saturday reached the low 60s by mid-afternoon.
The photos circulated on Facebook with people calling out Pour Taproom for allowing people to gather en masse during the pandemic, which has killed nearly 12,000 Georgians since last March. This latest impromptu gathering incident also highlights growing concern over whether city and Beltline officials are doing enough to prevent people from congregating in public outdoor spaces during the health crisis.
According to the current executive order from Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, dining room, bar, and patio seating must allow for at least six feet distance between tables and other diners. Patrons must be seated and are not allowed to stand at the bar or gather in groups.
Some people suggested Pour Taproom’s liquor license be temporarily revoked, a move states like Michigan began enforcing on restaurants and bars last year for violating COVID-19 orders. It’s unclear what, if any, consequences Georgia restaurants and bars or the public face when found in violation of the state’s COVID-19 rules and regulations.
An apology posted to Instagram in response to the patio backlash states Pour Taproom did “not appropriately plan for the turnout” over the weekend and that the situation “quickly got away from us” and “caught us off guard.” The statement claims owners Ramon Ballester and Jon Kim stopped checking in new patrons and attempted to disperse the crowd once they were informed of the situation. Pour Taproom remains closed until further notice for staff and capacity management training.
Ballester provided Eater with the statement below in an email Sunday afternoon. He has yet to answer follow-up questions regarding the number of staff members present Saturday or whether the Atlanta police department was called to help disperse the gathering.
Commenters on a recent post to Instagram account Atlanta Beltline Hates You mention other restaurants along this stretch of the trail with often crowded patios. Similar photos showing a bustling patio at neighboring pizzeria Nina and Rafi appeared on social media last April. Nina and Rafi also provides the food for Pour Taproom. To be considered an “eating establishment” in the state of Georgia, a business must make at least 50 percent of its sales from food. As of June 16, 2020, Georgia restaurants no longer need to adhere to capacity limits. Bars in the state are limited to 50 people or 35-percent total capacity.
The situation at Pour Taproom and the Beltline crowds come as Georgia experiences a peak in the number of coronavirus cases. According to medical educator and public health microbiologist Dr. Amber Schmidtke, cases are 152 percent higher than the peak of the virus last summer. Death rates in the state are falling, but remain 53 percent higher than last summer’s peak.
Health experts and researchers now recommend double masking to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, especially given evidence new mutations of the virus may be much more transmissible. Wearing two masks could equal the protection of an N-95 mask, known as a surgical N95 respirator, currently reserved for hospital workers and health care professionals.