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Hours After Reopening, Kansas City Bars Off To An Unhappy Start

Chris Haxel
KCUR 89.3
At The Phoenix, bar stools have been removed to comply with Kansas City's social distancing guidelines.

On Friday, some Kansas City bars reopened for the first time in two months. But there weren't many patrons to go around.

Thousands of downtown workers are gone. So are the happy hour bar stools they normally sit on. But Kansas City’s bars are back and ready for business. Some of them, at least.

In the River Market neighborhood, The Blue Line remains closed, but a couple doors down, Harry’s Country Club opened its doors Friday for the first time since St. Patrick’s Day.

There are some changes. Salt and pepper packets are single-use. Bottles of hand sanitizer stand at the ready. And yellow tape marks on the floor denote safe social distances.

The bar is ready for patrons. But are people ready to socialize?

Chris Haxel
KCUR 89.3
At Harry's Country Club, yellow tape marks the socially-distanced spot where patrons can safely stand.

“We’ve had our usual regulars that have been itching to come back, and a few other people, but it hasn’t been a typical Friday,” said General Manager Abby Brown

By mid-afternoon — prime time for happy hour on a normal Friday in May — the room was empty, save a couple employees mulling behind the bar.

“We don’t really know what to expect,” Brown said. “But we’ve had a lot of people call and ask if we’re open… we hope people come out.”

Chris Haxel
KCUR 89.3
Harry's Country Club opened its doors Friday for the first time since St. Patrick's Day.

At The Phoenix, in the city’s downtown core, Friday afternoon would typically see live music.

“This place would be packed with people,” said Ashley Renee, a server at the bar. “Not a seat open in the house by 3 p.m.”

Instead, a few patrons sat at tables across from the bar. Sidewalk seating and the patio out back were empty.

“We’ve had a lot of local people who come and support us,” she said. But overall, business Friday was sparse.

Jonathon Light lives in the neighborhood, and said he stopped by the Phoenix specifically to support a local business.

Light, nursing a beer in a corner table away from other patrons, said he’s keeping tabs on coronavirus case counts and thinks the soft opening guidelines for Kansas City are appropriate for now.

“I thought it’d be important to show some civility in helping out the local businesses,” he said. “These places have been closed for a long time.”

Chris Haxel
KCUR 89.3
The last time Taps on Main was open, owner Grant Tower was looking forward to packed bars during the Big 12 basketball tournament.

Further south, at Taps on Main, owner Grant Tower said he was surprised that more bars aren’t reopening right away.

“We’re a young business,” he said. “So we’ve got to do everything we can to get through this.”

Taps on Main opened in February 2019.

“We were barely a year old, starting to hit our stride, going into the Big 12 tournament,” Tower said. “And then, bam.”

The tournament had been scheduled to conclude March 14, a block away from the bar.

“It’s not a certainty” that business will pick up, Tower said. “But I think people will start to get more comfortable going out, especially with all the different precautions we’re taking.

At Taps on Main, that means the wall of self-pour taps is unavailable. Disposable menus are available, but Tower is pushing a new “contact-free” menu.

Tower said each table has a QR code that patrons can scan to pull up a menu on their phone. They can use their phones to pay the tab, too.

“I’m not going to tell you what I spent on printing this morning, “ he said. “We are pushing the heck out of these, because every time we have to throw a menu away — that’s not cheap.”

Chris Haxel
KCUR 89.3
At Taps on Main, the self-pour beer will will be untapped "for the foreseeable future," says owner Grant Tower.

As a reporter covering military and veterans’ affairs, I tell the stories of current and former service members and their families. I hold the government, elected officials and others responsible when they break their promises. And I explore how Americans can best uphold our commitments to those who serve.
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