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San Francisco Bar Owners Struggle With Reopening Requirements

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- For more than two months, Doug Dalton's bars including Rickhouse, Nightingale, and Pagan Idol in San Francisco's Financial District have sat empty - completely shut down.

In order to re-open, they can only sell cocktails to-go, if they partner with a meal provider.

"For example, if you want a $5 cocktail, you would have to purchase a $5 meal with that, which is not something the average consumer is going to want to do moving forward," said Dalton. "They're coming to us for a great cocktail experience and not necessarily for an incredibly food experience."

The other option is to sell sealed bottles of alcohol.

The announcement allowing bars, wineries, distilleries and breweries that do not have their own kitchens but that partner with meal providers to sell alcoholic beverages to-go was made Friday by the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

"We know businesses have suffered as they continue fighting to slow the spread of COVID-19," said ABC Director Jacob Appelsmith. "We have heard directly from these businesses that the notices of regulatory relief can give them a boost and help bring more people back to work."

Dalton owns Future Bars, which has about a dozen locations in San Francisco. He says pivoting his business model to suddenly partner with restaurants or food vendors is an undue burden and logistically challenging. He wants the city and ABC to go a step further, and relax the meal requirement.

Already this week, shelter-in-place restrictions forced The Stud, the city's longest-standing LGBTQ nightlife venue to close permanently, after a 33-year run.

"It's a deep loss for us," said co-owner VivvyAnne Forevermore. "We've been in this building since 1987. It survived the AIDS epidemic, and now it's the COVID pandemic that's forcing us to close."

Dalton says he's thankful for government relief loans, that have helped him bring back key staff to make new to-go menus, extensively clean his locations, and make repairs before they are operational. He has not yet found a fitting meal partner, but plans to do so.

"San Francisco bars, again, are a major point of tourism and without them, it would be a huge blow to the economy, if they continue to close," he said.

Dalton has plans to reconfigure spaces to allow for social distancing when bars eventually reopen.

"Currently we use Yelp for reservations, we'll be using wait list procedures, we'll allow people to queue up, we'll have guidelines and seated locations all throughout the bar," he added.

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