Local bar owners say indoor mask, vaccine mandate lifts came at right time

Media Credit: Colin Bohula | Staff Photographer

Chris DeFelice, the owner and operator of Dirty Water, said he was not a big supporter of the vaccine and mask mandates originally.

In the short time since the District’s indoor mask and vaccine mandates have been lifted, local bar and nightclub owners said they’ve seen an uptick in patrons.

Businesses in the D.C. nightlife scene have felt the toll of government shutdowns, social distancing requirements and indoor mask and vaccine mandates since the pandemic began. Mayor Muriel Bowser lifted the vaccine mandate last month and removed the citywide mask mandate last week, moves that local business owners said came at the right time to safely bring their locations back to normalcy.

Lindsay Taylor, the sales and event coordinator at The Crown and Crow, a 19th-century pub-inspired bar in Logan Circle, said with new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a changing local attitude about pandemic precautions, she feels comfortable with these city-wide changes and confident customers will as well.

“We’re hearing from the CDC and we’re hearing from the cities and we’re seeing across the country what people are doing,” Taylor said. “I think that taking the temperature of all that, the spirit of the overall business, perhaps including all the staff and certainly myself, is one of optimism.”

D.C.’s daily COVID-19 case rate stood at 10.4 per 100,000 residents as of Feb. 28, according to DC Health data.

As the pandemic has simmered on, Taylor said the bar has had to become used to the rapidly changing guidelines for COVID-19 safety, relying on a flexible mindset throughout the past two years while also citing the importance of staying informed as a small business that caters to nightlife in particular.

“We have rolled with the punches knowing that these mandates and changes have gone into place somewhat last minute and lifted,” she said. “With that in mind, we were ready to turn on a dime no matter what.”

When the announcement came last month that the indoor vaccine check and mask mandate would be lifted, Taylor said The Crown and Crow didn’t feel blindsided.

“As far as making preparations for removing mandates, we certainly felt that we were given enough time to consider operational challenges,” Taylor said.

Before an official indoor vaccine mandate was announced in December, The Crown and Crow was among a handful of bars requiring customer vaccine checks as a precautionary public safety measure.

“It felt, at the time, like an easy decision for us to make,” Taylor said. “We considered the fact that there may be some naysayers to our policy, but taking the temperature of our general community, we felt that putting that in place was something that was going to give people confidence to come to our venue and we believe that was the case.”

Taylor said throughout the pandemic, the bar has been making decisions with the safety of their community in mind, but with changing public attitudes and new guidance it feels like time to move on.

“We’ve walked the tightrope of doing what’s right, offering a safe community space, for people to come in and feel confident and reassured during the pandemic,” she said. “We’ve done what we’ve supposed to do and now, that’s kind of subsiding.”

Just as they weighed multiple factors like employee safety and CDC guidance in that decision, Taylor said they have done so with deciding not to continue these practices following the mandate lifts.

“We all have this need, and I think want, to get back to some sort of normalcy in the pandemic,” she said. “But we want to make sure that those decisions are made when the time is right, and we believe in the confidence of the information provided, that it was the right time for us to also move in that direction.”

Chris DeFelice – the owner and operator of Dirty Water, a dive bar in the H Street Corridor – said he wasn’t a huge fan of the mandates and when it came to knowing if his employees were vaccinated, he would “stay out of their business.”

“I didn’t love the fact that it was put on,” DeFelice said, referring to the vaccine mandate. “It didn’t seem to make a lot of sense at the time. But I kind of saw it coming. And it really didn’t change business for us at all.”

DeFelice said while he had a feeling when the mandates were instituted that they would be short-lived, he didn’t face consistent issues with customer compliance.

“My door guys didn’t even have to like prod people to show their cards,” he said. “People just show them. Pull them out.”

Reflecting on the changing nightlife scene throughout the pandemic, DeFelice said he was grateful having survived for so long while seeing firsthand small businesses around him close down, unable to face the burden of the global pandemic and the resulting financial hardships.

“We’re blessed that we were able to survive this whole thing, keeping our business open,” DeFellice said. “But I equally empathize with those that were unable. Really just seeing sort of the attack on small business the last two years, it’s just been really, it’s been very frustrating.”

Anthony DeRosa contributed reporting.

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