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As cases increase elsewhere, Minnesota bars and restaurants hope to remain open

Other states have pulled back on restaurant and bar service, but not Minnesota yet.

ST PAUL, Minn. — It didn’t feel like a typical Monday at Bad Weather Brewing. The post-work, late-afternoon crowd filled the patio on West Seventh Street – staying six feet away and socially distant, of course – and sipped craft beers in the summer heat.

“I think people are pretty happy to just get out of their homes and come out and share a beer,” Bad Weather sales manager Mark Sobolik said, “and feel kind of normal again.”

A few miles away, at Tavern on Grand, that same feeling of normalcy hovered near the indoor bar. Some of the regulars have started to come back to the iconic neighborhood joint in St. Paul, as long as they stay far enough away from each other and wear masks when they’re not eating or drinking.

“I say we’ve been crawling along,” manager Tara Padilla said, “where we’ve got little bursts of busyness.”

Padilla is heavily sanitizing and color-coding the restaurant so that customers will stay six feet apart. But she knows she can’t take anything for granted, based on the significant COVID-19 spikes that other states are currently experiencing. In California, the governor just shut down bars entirely on Monday and restricted restaurants to outdoor-only.

“That’s always a concern,” Padilla said, “and obviously on the back of our minds.”

In Minnesota, hospitalizations remain relatively low and the case levels have not set off any major alarms. However, there has been growing concern about young people catching the virus at bars – especially now that people in their twenties account for the most cases of COVID-19.

Former Obama health care official Andy Slavitt, an Edina resident, tweeted to his half-million followers over the weekend that he urged the Walz administration to close indoor bars. 

Although Minnesota has not taken any further action to restrict bars or restaurants, health commissioner Jan Malcolm issued another reminder Monday about the 50-percent capacity rules for indoor dining, among other requirements. If any restaurant or bar breaks the rules, Malcolm said that the state will try education first before moving to enforcement, if needed.

“The bottom line is, we need businesses to follow the guidelines,” Malcolm said. “And we need patrons to respect that there are guidelines to follow.”

At Bad Weather, the tables are all spaced out accordingly, and masks are required indoors. An online reservation system has also been established.

“We’re just sticking by the guidelines,” sales manager, Mark Sobolik, said. “And if you can’t abide by those rules, then we just really can’t help you.”

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