Minneapolis bars lose out as restriction to bar top service is extended

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey announced restrictions prohibiting service across a bar top, to someone sitting or standing on the other side, will be extended as Governor Walz lifts restrictions on indoor dining at bars and restaurants statewide.

"Our communities and businesses have made extraordinary sacrifice, and this approach will best honor that sacrifice by making it more likely bars and restaurants can stay open while keeping customers and workers healthy," Mayor Frey said in a statement announcing the extended restrictions.

"We are continuing to target the highest risk activities which hold an outsized importance in our state’s largest and densest city," the mayor added.

Tony Jaros River Garden in Northeast Minneapolis was preparing to re-open on Monday. 

"I expected to be open everybody was excited to work," owner Dan Jaros said.

Jaros said he scheduled his staff and placed orders with distributors. On Saturday, he got word that Minneapolis would extend restrictions on bar tops.

"I just couldn’t believe it. It was just totally unexpected," Jaros said.

Jaros’ bar is basically just that, a bar. In addition to the bar top, he has about a dozen booths that line one wall of the small building. With social distancing, he would only be able to seat six of them, meaning he could have about 12 people inside at a time. He says financially, he can’t reopen with such limited seating.

"Closing this bar isn’t doing any good because people are going two miles down the road and drinking anyway," Jaros said. "This isn’t accomplishing anything it’s just making the bars in the outskirts busier."

The City of Minneapolis put restrictions on bar top services in place on August 1. Tony Jaros has been closed since then, and with restrictions extending into this year, Jaros isn’t sure how much longer into this year they’ll last.

"I don’t know how long I can make it and I’ve been here for 50 years," Jaros said.

A lack of bar service also has an impact on bartenders, who are missing out on the money guests belly up to the bar top.

"Without bar service our bartenders have been hurting a little bit more than the average serving staff would," General Manager of Stanley’s Northeast Bar Room, Evan Sjodin, said.

As a solution, Stanley’s and many other restaurants in Minneapolis that have the physical space are pushing tables up to bar tops, so they can be serviced by bartenders, without them having to travel too far from their bar duties.

"Even though you can’t serve over the bar itself if you walk around the bar and serve your guests that’s been fine," Sjodin said.

In his announcement on extending bar top restrictions, Mayor Frey said in two weeks, he’ll revisit the policy "following receipt of additional public health data."