Bars, breweries and restaurants around the city are preparing for Halloween amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, just a few weeks after Oktoberfest events around Charlotte drew crowds of thousands.
The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery (OMB) faced backlash from Charlotte residents after at least five attendees to the brewery’s Mecktoberfest event on Sept. 25 tested positive for COVID-19 as a result of limited safety precautions at the event, which took place over the weekend of Sept. 25. Videos from the three-day party showed large crowds, with some dancing arm in arm and socializing without masks despite the state’s mandate and the brewery’s claim to maintain social distancing throughout the event.
While the state was still in Phase 2 of reopening during Oktoberfest weekend, bars will now be added to the mix of events as North Carolina entered Phase 3 on Oct. 2. But a weekend that would ordinarily consist of parties and events throughout Charlotte will be more scattered this year as businesses hold limited gatherings, participate in alternative celebrations or opt out of Halloween altogether.
Charlotte Organizers Use Caution in Planning Halloween Events
With a large taproom, patio, outdoor tents and a barrel room, Catawba Brewing plans to celebrate Halloween throughout the weekend of Oct. 30 with a liquor launch, specials and a costume contest.
Lindsay Hayes, who works as the marketing manager for Catawba Brewing, said the brewery is limited to 50% capacity with chairs and tables spaced at least 8 feet apart. Masks are required for all guests when they are not seated, and plexiglass windows have been installed to limit contact between guests and bartenders.
Hayes said she was disappointed to see the events that unfolded at OMB’s Mecktoberfest.
“None of that will ever happen at Catawba with our staff,” Hayes said. “This is why we only do intimate music on Friday nights, and we never have a DJ or anything of that sort so people aren’t getting up to dance. If they do, we tell them to stop, and if they don’t listen, we ask them to leave.”
If guests choose to attend Catawba in a group at any point throughout the Halloween weekend, Hayes said they can make a reservation. The brewery will seat groups of 15 at separate tables next to each other, she said.
Earlier in the month, Catawba Brewing teamed up with The Jam: CLT to throw a “Masktoberfest” event, which went well and warranted no complaints, Hayes said, setting the tone for future events. As the brewery prepares to hold more events, Hayes said their team plans to get creative.
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“We’re trying to come up with cool ideas to have events with people staying at their tables,” Hayes said.
Piedmont Social House also plans to get creative with its Hallo-Week event, which starts Oct. 27. The restaurant will have Halloween-themed drink specials throughout the week, a Halloween trivia night on Oct. 29 and live music on Friday and Saturday nights.
Event manager Jessica Paulson has paid attention to what has followed Mecktoberfest ahead of the restaurant’s Halloween celebration but feels confident in the safety measures enforced at PSH.
“We weren’t allowing crowds to begin with,” Paulson said. “It irritates us that something like that did happen because it puts us all five steps back.”
To mitigate potential crowds, Paulson said Piedmont Social House has a rule of no crowding or standing at the bar, and does not allow people to congregate outside of their group. Paulson said the restaurant staff has spaced out tables 6 feet and strictly enforced masks. Staff is also required to wear masks and gloves, and get their temperatures checked daily.
“I feel like we’ve been doing a better job than most,” Paulson said. “We’re doing it safely, but people are still having a good time.”
Bars and Breweries Find Other Options
While some have found safe ways to celebrate Halloween, other businesses in Charlotte have found other ways to celebrate without holding events.
QC Pour House, Sycamore Brewing and Pins Mechanical Co. have all chosen to not throw Halloween events this year and rather celebrate with other South End businesses instead. Those establishments, along with 11 other South End businesses, are participating in “Here Lies South End,” a three-day scavenger hunt put on by Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit throughout the Halloween weekend.
“We wanted to bring the neighborhood together, partner with neighboring businesses and support small businesses during a weekend where they probably would have had plans but may not anymore,” Tarah Boyleston, marketing director at Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit, said.
Boyleston said those participating in the scavenger hunt can pick up a “spell card” at Callie’s any time throughout the weekend and must visit at least seven of the participating businesses to be entered in a raffle to win $400 worth of prizes.
The event takes place over the course of three days, which Boyleston hopes will help with potential crowds.
“We want to avoid crowds and stop the spread of this virus, which is why we made the event three days long in hopes to spread out the number of people, rather than just making it Halloween,” Boyleston said.
Boyleston said QC Pour House will serve Halloween cocktails and air football games throughout the weekend, Pins Mechanical Co. will have a specialty Halloween cocktail and Sycamore Brewing is encouraging participants to stop by for a beer.
“All of these businesses all have regulations like [remaining] 6 feet apart in line and wearing a mask when you enter, so keeping those regulations in place is going to be pertinent,” Boyleston said.
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QC Pour House declined to comment on its Halloween precautions and regulations. Pins Mechanical Co. and Sycamore Brewing did not respond to a request for a comment, but Sycamore recently closed early as a result of overcrowding.
Business as Usual
Some local establishments have chosen to exclude themselves from Halloween altogether, but still plan to continue enforcing safety precautions throughout the weekend.
Just down the street from OMB, Brewers at 4001 Yancey have been strictly following guidelines around reopening, according to manager Sharon Burgos.
The brewery has no plans for a Halloween event. However, if crowds do arrive over the weekend, Burgos said they have precautions in place to avoid risks, including a check-in stand at the front to keep track of the number of people inside if it gets busy.
Burgos has also paid attention to what happened following Mecktoberfest, but it has not affected Brewers at 4001 Yancey.
“We’ve been really good since the beginning on following all the standards,” Burgos said. “They’re our neighbors, but we’ve been pretty conscious and pretty aware, so we haven’t changed what we’re doing.”
The Suffolk Punch also plans to operate on Halloween weekend under its current social distancing precautions. Manager Ben Galpert said no large gatherings will be allowed inside.
Galpert said the brewery will not hold any event.
“With what’s going on in the world, we take it very seriously,” Galpert said. “It’s not the right thing to do right now.”
*Mecklenburg County Public Health’s Halloween Dos and Don’ts advise against attending crowded costume parties or events, and going to crowded bars and restaurants that are not adhering to COVID-19 guidelines
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