Bars are almost synonymous with late-night socializing. The question is, can any of that be separated from alcohol — and, more importantly, can the revelers at the bar be separated from one another?
The evidence of self-control seems to be lacking, which is why lounges where alcohol is central to service have been ranked as among the riskiest environments to keep open in a pandemic, particularly when the disease is as infectious as COVID-19.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell came to this conclusion, issuing an order on Tuesday barring sale of alcohol after midnight at Oahu bars. This step, which was approved by Gov. David Ige, was taken following a spike in cases locally over last weekend and in the midst of anxiety-producing surges in infections in several mainland states.
In one of those hot spots, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has barred on-site alcohol consumption at any time at all bars.
Even in New York, the previous epicenter of the pandemic, Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week ordered that establishments could only serve liquor to customers who also are ordering food.
So cutting back the hours on Oahu is certainly not the most extreme restriction in the toolkit. And Caldwell is hinting that he might dig deeper, unless compliance improves.
To enforce things more tightly, the new order empowers city liquor inspectors and police officers to shut down scofflaw bars for 24 hours if warnings and citations go unheeded; there could be further penalties, including revocation of the liquor license, too.
The new rule has drawn fire from proprietors who, under normal liquor laws, had been able to serve liquor until 2 a.m.; those with cabaret licenses could go on for two more hours beyond that.
Their complaint: Why are we being picked on?
Messaging from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consistently has backed up such crackdowns. Bars are filled with people standing around, not limited by positioning of tables, so crowding is hard to avoid. And after midnight, traffic from the younger patrons, who typically get a late start, continues to pick up.
If the bars want to stay open, they’d be better advised to treat this like a “make it work” moment. Otherwise, the mayor said, he may order the liquor spigot turned off at 10 p.m., which won’t do businesses any good. Sounded like he meant it.