Philly bars are back: City allows bar seating to reopen as COVID cases decline

The relaxed regulation allows bars to allow patrons back in limited numbers and with barriers between drinkers and bartenders.

People have lunch inside a local restaurant on Friday, Sept. 4, 2020, in Hoboken, New Jersey. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

People have lunch inside a local restaurant on Friday, Sept. 4, 2020, in Hoboken, New Jersey. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

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Philadelphians will finally be able to sidle back up to the bar, as city health officials loosened more COVID-19 restrictions on Friday.

While patrons were allowed back for indoor dining at tables, barstools were off-limits. Now, bar service in the city will resume immediately as coronavirus cases head into another slump — but with some uncomfortable restrictions for tavern owners.

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said the falling cases and new safety precautions led to the decision. Groups will be limited to four or fewer and owners will have to install barriers between patrons and the bartender.

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“We do think bars are riskier than restaurants and people are drinking and not eating they’re risking other behaviors,” he said. “We’re allowing it now because there are restrictions we have on bar seating that make it no riskier than table seating.”

As with earlier regulations, social distancing requirements for groups will remain in place. The city also loosened capacity limits for outdoor dining for more than 50 people, so long as owners complete and submit a special application.

However, some bar owners said they were confused by the new rules. Nicole Schultice, a co-owner of Nick’s Roast Beef, a bar and restaurant in Old City, said she was “baffled” by the requirement.

“I don’t understand it at all. I don’t understand how you’re supposed to have a barrier between the bartender and patrons,” she said. “How are we supposed to serve them with a barrier in the way?”

Schultice said the city had done a poor job of communicating the new rules. She also questioned the logic behind stringent controls on bar service while open table service was allowed.

“You can walk right up to a table and serve people,” she said. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

COVID case count on the decline

COVID-19 cases are finally on a downswing across Pennsylvania after a nearly two month surge, dropping nearly 15% over the past week, the sharpest decline since early February. After a recent peak of 5,000 cases a day, the state is now averaging 4,200 positive tests daily.

While case counts are still elevated in the city, they appear to have plateaued and COVID-19 related deaths have remained low for months.

Grants for live arts venues available

The U.S. Small Business Administration will also reopen its Shuttered Venue Operators Grant tomorrow at 12:30 p.m.

The program, fueled by $16 billion from the Office of Disaster Assistance, targets live music and performance venues, performing arts organizations, and theatrical producers, as well as museums, zoos and aquariums that meet certain criteria.

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Eligible applicants can qualify for grants equal to 45 percent of their gross earned revenue with a maximum for a single grant of $10 million.

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