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Locals ‘bellied up to the bar’ again in Seattle as COVID restrictions lifted

Bar Max owner and operator Marshall Smith, left, makes a drink on April 16, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

With the state’s COVID-19 restrictions on bars and restaurants lifted as of 12:01 a.m. on June 30, nightlife in Washington is back.

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Mike Lewis, a former colleague of KIRO Radio’s Gee & Ursula Show and owner of Streamline Tavern in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood, says his bar stayed open until 2 a.m.

“We went to two o’clock in the morning, or maybe they did, actually I got out of there probably about one o’clock in the morning cause I don’t think any of us are used to 2 a.m. anymore,” Lewis said.

For Streamline in particular, Lewis says about 70% of the overall seats are at the bar itself, which was previously not allowed to be open. Those limits on bar seating, he explained, had a significant impact on Streamline’s capacity.

“So the fact that we can actually put people there is great,” he said. “It also means that now we can add, with the restrictions removed and the occupancy restrictions removed, we can add a second shift. We went from two shifts a day — we literally had to cut the number of shifts we were offering people in half.”

“This is probably the most significant occurrence because we can now actually go back to that full level of employment that we had been doing prior, and that’s really meaningful,” he added. “Especially when you have people who need the extra money given the past year.”

Moving forward, Lewis isn’t exactly sure how long it will take to fully recover.

“I’ve honestly kind of resisted doing that math because I didn’t want to get myself bummed out. It’s going to take some time,” he said. “I mean, we, not just us, remember, it’s also the people who work for us and also the people who either became very sick or even died as a result. And that certainly did happen to some customers at our place, and probably a handful of customers at many places in town. And so you have a cultural cost of it. You have a financial cost.”

“And then the business cost means that there are people who left the neighborhood or left the city who haven’t come back,” he continued. “We have one bartender who, given his other job, isn’t coming back, which is a drag. He’s great and we’re on wonderful terms, but he just decided that, ‘I’m not going to do that sort of part time thing anymore.’ And so you lose these people and what you hope is that you can then bring in new people to bring back the culture.”

Lewis is optimistic that Streamline may be luckier than some other places as it is just two blocks away from the brand-new Climate Pledge Arena set to open later this year.

“I was talking with some folks about how I was worried about the crowds and it’s going to change it from being like a neighborhood bar into being more of an event bar because you’re gonna get 17,000 people … 40 nights a year, in the bar. I was kind of concerned about the extra business and what is it going to do for our regular customers. And now I’m like, bring it on,” he said. “We could definitely use that boost, and I think a lot of places in that neighborhood could as well.”

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For now, Lewis says it doesn’t feel like we’re totally at the other end of the pandemic.

“I think everyone’s a bit more wary, right? We’re not getting rid of any of the protective devices. We’re putting them upstairs. We’re keeping the separate tables that we had to switch to, all of that stuff,” he said. “So I think that, for us, it’s very much like we realize now that the things you never calculated for, you have to add to your calculation. … But honestly, last night when people bellied up to the bar again, I don’t know, it’s great. Really great.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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