A lot has changed since my last article; namely, Phase 3 in Charlotte, as the easing of Gov. Cooper’s COVID-19 restrictions have allowed local businesses a bit more wiggle room to start the process of opening back up. As announced this week, Phase 3 is set to extend (tentatively) until Nov. 13 at 5 p.m. and has loosened restrictions on many of our coveted bars, restaurants and clubs.
Some have returned to the scene gracefully and respectfully, following rules and regulations regarding capacity and social distancing measures. While others have taken a knee and closed, chosen to delay reopening, or have been served eviction papers leaving nightlife goers like myself wondering what the scene will look like if and when this pandemic ever ends.
We’ve seen some who seem to have tumbled out of quarantine without any resemblance of a true safety plan while skirting the rules by partnering with food neighbors. And others have been subjected to patrons who just simply don’t care about following the rules.
Just just a couple of weeks ago, Queen City Nerve publisher Justin LaFrancois watched in astonishment as Charlotte City Council members straight up ignored the safety guidelines set at Hattie’s Tap & Tavern. Sadly, though the audacity blew many Twitter users away, many of us weren’t shocked.
We know that some businesses have been waiting patiently for the Phase 3 to hit Charlotte so they can reopen safely. However, after seeing some chick suck on a tap at Hoppin’, our faith that we as patrons and humans would know how to behave fell by the wayside.
The level of comfortability I’ve noticed since returning to my favorite hangs and patios in the Queen City has often left me bewildered. Strangers blatantly disregard even the old definition of personal space even after being verbally asked to not touch or stand so close to someone. Karens remove their mask to curse someone out or otherwise verbally accost a fellow patron about not wearing a mask!? Passersby pick up and chug unfinished drinks at tables that are no longer occupied. Individuals in the stalls next to me flush the toilet and walk right out the door without washing their hands.
“I didn’t even bring my mask,” I overheard someone say in between uncontrollable laughter just days after my family buried my grandfather due to complications of COVID-19. (That’s right, COVID finally hit me at home, and let me tell you if you ever were spiraling down the conspiracy rabbit hole before, this pandemic is real.)
You may be wondering, “Well then why the hell are you out and about? Of all people, you should be staying at home.” I’ve asked myself the same thing. It probably goes without saying, but the truth is I’m no different than everyone else even in the midst of loss. After being cooped up in the house for so many months, I was beyond ecstatic for the opportunity to connect and socialize again without a screen in front of me.
I’ll be the first to admit, while I approached with extreme caution at the outset of Phase 2, after a couple of beers, it becomes easy to let down your guard if you’re not vigilant. Hence, the 11 p.m. cutoff may be a new norm for those imbibing for the unforeseeable future.
Nevertheless, the reality of the pandemic and the inevitable conversation around its impact on nightlife remains. Will we be forced to return to the confines of our homes if the correlation between easing restrictions and increases in COVID-19 cases continues? Will face masks be the new go-to accessory as we get ready for a night on the town in perpetuity? What other nightlife destinations will fail to return to the scene?
As announcements of reopening continue to trickle in, and hope is being restored that normalcy is on the horizon, I can’t help but hear LL Cool J in the back of my head saying, “Don’t call it a comeback!”
We are still a far cry from what was deemed “normal,” back in February, and the reality is this newfound freedom we’ve entered into can easily be taken away if we’re not careful. For bar and restaurant owners, this means remaining steadfast in enforcing safety and capacity measures. For patrons, we must remain vigilant when we’re stepping out into the city, doing our part, wearing our masks, and washing our damn hands so that we can keep one another safe and our favorites open rather than take them for granted.
What’s scarier? According to this week’s announcement, Phase 3 in Charlotte will run right through Halloween. What unruly festivities will come back to haunt us in the absence of the beloved Rich & Bennett’s Halloween crawl?