Amid new COVID rules, Michigan bars and restaurants throw open their doors this week at 25 percent capacity, with a few dipping their toes into live music again. The lowdown at Local Spins.
COVID weariness clearly has set in, with hundreds of Michigan bars and restaurants enthusiastically – but cautiously – set to reopen this week with state-mandated capacity restrictions and face-mask rules in place.
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While most won’t be hosting music quite yet, several West Michigan bars and breweries are testing the waters with live performances this week in a bid to restore some semblance of normalcy amid a pandemic.
“It’s been too long,” said Mark McPherson, founder and head manager of Otsego’s Liquid Note Brewing, which will adhere to state-issued protocols for social-distancing and table assignments when it reopens Friday with live music by Jonathan Love, followed on Saturday night by Dylan Tolbert.
“We are only bringing in solo acts to start. Our musicians are ready to play again.”
Others dipping their toes into live music for the first time since mid-November when a COVID surge forced statewide closures include Grand Rapids’ Twisted Bull Saloon, with the Brian Randall Band on Friday and Saturday nights, and The Iron Well, with songwriter Joseph Henry of The Holy Warheads on Thursday evening.
(Next week, Klay N’ The Mud will play an acoustic show on Feb. 13 at Grand Rapids’ Log Cabin Cocktail Lounge.)
“We are so glad we are finally able to have the opportunity to reopen,” said Iron Well managing partner Todd Jablonski, noting owners will “ease our way back” into live entertainment with solo artists only on Thursdays.
“As you well know, the entertainment industry has been hit hard by this pandemic and most local artists haven’t had an opportunity to play in front of a live audience in nearly a year. We feel it is crucial to the mental health of many individuals the play and hear live music again. If everything goes well, we will look to expanding this format on more nights of the week, giving more people the opportunity to feel the music.”
But make no mistake: This is a baby step toward future profitability. Business owners say operating at only 25 percent capacity really isn’t sustainable, especially when it comes to offering live music.
“We are anxious to get back to 100 percent,” McPherson said of the 115-capacity Liquid Note brewpub and music venue. “No money to be made at 25 percent or even 50 percent.”
Grand Rapids’ River City Saloon echoed that sentiment, noting that it will reopen at 25 percent capacity this week while trying to “navigate the new rules” set down by the state.
“We will not have live bands until we are allowed a 50-percent capacity as it is not feasible financially,” the bar posted on Facebook. “We do plan to still have Monday trivia and Tuesday and Thursday karaoke, which will be great to see again.”
Twisted Bull informed Local Spins that for its live performances, “the band has a dedicated area that is distanced from anyone else. And patrons are distanced accordingly. There’s no dancing, dance floor is closed.”
The bar added that it has “rules posted and our staff continues to clean and sanitize to ensure the safety of our guests. Yes, it may be a little challenging with 25-percent capacity” but the staff and bands are “working with us to make this happen.”
Other popular restaurants and bars that double as live music spaces remain uncertain as to when performers might return to their stages – issuing stern rules to patrons about their new safety protocols and restrictions – with formal concert venues still months away from restarting.
McPherson warned that “many places won’t reopen” after the pandemic, citing last year’s permanent closure of Kalamazoo’s Union Cabaret & Grille, a popular hot spot for Western Michigan University students.
“In some ways, I think we could turn into the new Union,” he said of Otsego’s Liquid Note. “We are close to WMU.”
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