Hours after Gov. Larry Hogan warned bar owners that they must comply with the state’s ban on large gatherings, eight businesses in Fells Point announced that they are shutting their doors out of an abundance of caution due to coronavirus.
“Although our government has not mandated it, we as business owners feel that in order to protect our community, we have no choice but to close our doors and insist we all take the idea of social distancing seriously,” a release sent by several Fells Point bar owners said.
The release said starting Sunday night the following bars, restaurants and one retail shop would be closed: Max’s Taphouse, Kooper’s Tavern, Slainte Irish Pub and Restaurant, Woody’s Cantina, Poppy & Stella, The Admiral’s Cup (as well as the Federal Hill sister property Bookmakers Cocktail Club), The Horse You Came In On Saloon and DogWatch Tavern.
The business owners said they put a “high premium” on social responsibility and felt like this was in the best interest of the community. The release did not say when the establishments plan to reopen but said when public health officials “express confidence” that it is safe to reopen they will do so.
Ron Furman, an owner at Max’s Taphouse, said he’s been in the bar business for 30 years and has never been in a position like this. Furman said he started talking with other Fells Point business owners Sunday morning after feeling that posting warning signs wasn’t enough.
“We are a tight-knit community and we are concerned about our employees and customers,” Furman said.
Furman said he started a Facebook group for other bars and restaurant owners across the country to help problem-solve and try to find positive solutions during the coronavirus.
“There is no insurance policy for something like this,” Furman said. “If there is looting, yeah we’ll be covered. But a pandemic? That’s not covered.”
Cat’s Eye Pub bartender Robert Gelhaus said the bar was closing Sunday night and will stay shut for the remainder of the week except perhaps on St. Patrick’s Day, Gelhaus said.
Earlier Sunday, the governor sent a harsh reminder that if businesses don’t self-regulate, the state will be watching.
“Anyone who hosts or is part of the crowds in bars this weekend is jeopardizing the health of others and must avoid any contact with family members or friends over the age of 60 or those with underlying health conditions,” Hogan’s office said, first in a tweet and then in a full written statement.
The spread of the coronavirus has affected all manner of public activity — work, nursing home visitations, sporting events — and bar owners and revelers looking to enjoy a weekend full of partying before St. Patrick’s Day are no exception.
Baltimore’s Federal Hill neighborhood was flooded this past weekend with people decked out in green and white apparel who seemingly had no regard for the social distancing directive.
Two girls asked a Baltimore Sun photojournalist what social distancing was. Another group huddled together and snapped a selfie, their faces mushed together side by side. There were lines to get into bars.
The Cat’s Eye Pub bartender said Saturday was a “very busy day” but that he felt people were more aware about their hygiene and practicing social distancing.
Michael Lisicky, a longtime Fells Point resident, said his neighborhood was just as packed. He said he felt that several bars were “irresponsible" about how many people they let enter.
The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra oboist said he was surprised Fells Point bars and restaurants decided to close but added that it was “for the best.”
Lisicky said he walks through the neighborhood almost every morning, stopping to get a cup of coffee. But Sunday was different, he said.
“People are starting to go away,” Lisicky said. “People are starting to take this to heart.”
Hogan acknowledged the disappointment from the crowded bars, but said there will be no exceptions to the state ban on gatherings of 250 people or more.
“We recognize Tuesday is St. Patrick’s Day, but it is an urgent public health priority to not be in crowds and implement aggressive social distancing," Hogan said.
In the statement Hogan’s office emphasized that state officials will monitor those who violate the edict.
“Additionally, Governor Hogan reiterated that failure to follow his order prohibiting large gatherings is a crime, and will be enforced if businesses fail to comply,” the statement said.
The warning was issued in all bold lettering.
Violating the order is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and/or a fine up to $5,000.
The Restaurant Association of Maryland declined to comment.
Jim Bauckman, who represents the Brewers Association of Maryland, said the organization advised breweries, wineries and distilleries across the state to “make the best business decision” about closing. He also said the association urged people to increase their cleaning regimen.
Hidden Hills Vineyards moved a ribbon-cutting. Idiom Brewing canceled its St. Patrick’s Day event. Ministry of Brewing is temporarily shutting its doors. Bauckman said it’s all in hopes of mitigating crowds and limiting the spread of COVID-19.
Those businesses that remain open have done away with normal wine or bar glasses, Bauckman said, and are instead using biodegradable, single-use containers for drinks.
Many are also getting inventive and creating a “curbside pickup” option for products that people can call in or order online and procure without leaving their vehicle.
Bauckman, the director of communication at Grow & Fortify, said he’s concerned about the long-term impact social distancing might have on businesses that are largely family-owned.
“These local businesses make living in Maryland fun,” Bauckman said. “They’re producing great beer, wine and spirits, and we’re asking that people continue to support them when they are thinking about going out and buying alcohol.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its recommendation Sunday night and said any gathering of over 50 people should not be held for the next eight weeks.
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Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott said it’s time for restaurants and bars to limit service to carry-out and delivery, and for nightclubs to close. Governors in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Ohio and Washington closed bars, restaurants and wineries Sunday in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Scott thanked the local bars and restaurants, largely in Fells Point, who have done so voluntarily.
“The most important thing we can do right now is be safe, and not aid the virus in spreading through this community,” he said.
Bridget Lloyd, owner of Magerks Pub & Grill in Bel Air (there is a second location, separately owned in Federal Hill), said she is following what the governor mandated but is concerned about a shutdown like the one Scott is calling for.
Beyond worrying about employees, Lloyd said the bar would also have to deal with getting rid of its perishable food.
“It’s not like we can just shut the doors and go home,” Lloyd said. “We’re dealing with perishables and vendors and employees. Things need to be dealt with first. I would hope we could give away food to our staff and customers rather than throwing it all out.”
Baltimore Sun reporters Talia Richman, John Holland, Ulysses Muñoz and Kenneth K. Lam contributed to this article.