Oahu bars and restaurants on Tuesday were ordered to stop serving liquor after midnight effective immediately in response to concerns about the spread of coronavirus, city officials said.
Gov. David Ige gave oral approval to Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s request to amend his COVID-19 emergency order Tuesday afternoon.
Caldwell, earlier in the day, said he asked that liquor-serving establishments be required to stop the sale, service, or consumption of alcohol at midnight due to increasing complaints about violations to social distancing requirements tied to the COVID-19 pandemic. They are allowed to stay open beyond midnight so long as liquor is not available.
The order also allows city liquor inspectors and police officers to go as far as shutting down an establishment for 24 hours if a proprietor ignores warnings and citations. Operators found in noncompliance with the requirements of the order also may be subject to penalties that could include fines, suspension, and/or revocation of the liquor license, city officials said.
“We’re getting more and more complaints,” Caldwell told reporters at a news conference. “Our liquor commission has been going out and inspecting and seeing, in certain situations, hundreds of people at bars practicing no physical distancing, wearing no face coverings and dancing close together.”
Under standard city liquor laws, those with bar licenses may serve alcohol until 2 a.m. while those with cabaret licenses may serve until 4 a.m.
“We believe that people, as they hang around a bar for a long period of time and drink alcohol, they get more lax in their actions and therefore we have examples that we don’t want to see,” Caldwell said.
If there continue to be many complaints, Caldwell said, he may consider asking Ige to allow counties to mandate that establishments stop serving liquor at 10 p.m. “Don’t want to go there, but we’ll be watching to see what happens in certain bars.”
In response to questions, Honolulu Liquor Commission spokeswoman Melissa Pampulov said the panel “supports the effort of the mayor to make it safe for all of us.”
Pampulov confirmed that the commission has received complaints about establishments that have violated social distancing orders and that citations have been issued. But she declined to provide specifics. “We are unable to comment on any adjudications that have not come before the commission.”
Caldwell said “we’re going to continue to look at ways to fight this virus to make sure that we do everything possible so we don’t have to shut down big sectors of our business community.”
A sampling of bartenders from Honolulu liquor establishments gave mixed views as they prepared for the first night of the new law.
Bar 35’s bartender Gina, who declined to provide her last name, said: “That is the mandate. That’s what we’re going to adhere to.”
She said she keeps up with the news and learned of the changes. “With the numbers climbing it doesn’t surprise me,” she said.
She said the new hours hopefully won’t hurt business, and the Chinatown bar will close at midnight.
“All we can do is keep being positive, and hopefully people will still come out the hours we’re open,” she said.
The new ruling did not seem to faze the manager at 8FatFat8, a karaoke bar and grill, with mostly a local clientele. She said, “We’ve been closing at midnight.”
“We’re really busy,” she said.
In Waikiki, things are different.
Brian Diaz, a bartender at Arnold’s Beach Bar &Grill on Saratoga Road, commented on the change: “I think it benefits the owners. Business has been super slow. … By us closing earlier, it saves money for the owners.”
“After restaurants opened, we were busy,” he said. “After that it slowed down big time. The reason people are making shorter hours is because they’re hurting.”