Now that Gov. Greg Abbott has approved the reopening of Texas bars — and music venues — starting Friday, it seems that Fort Worth’s biggest original-rock spots are ready to move forward. Maybe now, maybe later, but still forward.
Brian Forella is “about ready” but will not reopen on Friday. He owns two connected spots: Lola’s Trailer Park, a rambling, mostly open-air venue, and Lola’s Saloon, a smaller, enclosed bar-bar with a stage. He believes he’ll be able to reopen the Trailer Park by Tuesday and the Saloon by mid-June. “We’re still cleaning,” he said, noting that opening the Saloon any sooner would not be “a good look for me. Gonna try to be safe.”
The Trailer Park, at 7,500 total square feet, with 6,300 of that being outdoors, is “big enough,” he said. “At least I can do bands outside. I can make it as safe as possible.”
The occupancy at the Trailer Park will be capped at 100, and service will be tableside only — state regulations prohibit bartenders from serving from bar counters. The Trailer Park’s service area will not have any chairs or tables, Forella said.
Neither Lola’s will be ready by Friday. “With all the rules and restrictions that need to be implemented, it might not be the best idea to open on a Friday,” he added.
Bars will be largely responsible for policing themselves or face a fine. However, most bars and venues do not have the kind of manpower required to ensure that social distancing is in effect at all times and that occupancy limits are not exceeded.
“Exactly,” Forella said.
He and manager Blake Parish have other concerns, as well.
If social distancing is not maintained at a fine local tavern, Parish said that, from what he’s learned, the bar — and possibly the bartenders on duty — will be fined, not the customer or customers flouting the law. “Already around the country there have been shootings, fights and all kinds of insanity whenever someone tells someone else to follow the rules,” Parish recently posted. “Now add alcohol to that equation and what do you think you’re going to get?”
Forella believes not reopening the Trailer Park as soon as possible is not really an option. “Landlords ain’t gonna wait,” he said. “I gotta open. Everybody doesn’t want anybody to open. I have to, even if it’s me bartending by myself. I’m not looking to. I’m a shitty bartender, but I have no choice. I can’t tell my landlords, ‘I’m allowed to be open but don’t feel like opening.’ I’m gonna have normal bills plus three months of shit I haven’t paid.”
Ryan Higgs plans to reopen his Near Southside venue MASS “cautiously,” he said. “It is not an ideal situation. We don’t open bars and plan budgets based on 25% of our capacity showing up. I am happy to be able to provide work for our employees who need it. I am sorting through the guidelines and figuring out ways to keep everyone safe. It is a great responsibility that everyone must be mindful of.”
When MASS opens on Friday, it will be without live music, unusually but not unexpectedly — considering social distancing restrictions and Higgs’ respect for safety — for the venue that’s winning lockdown by regularly livestreaming concerts as part of the Social Distancing Concert Series. “We will gradually phase [music] in,” Higgs said, noting that the livestreamed concerts will continue for the foreseeable future.
Forella hopes to bring back live music by the end of the month. “Even if it’s just a band with no people,” he said.
He hopes to cover his expenses through a sponsor. “We’re trying to get good bands at first,” he said. “Say a band wants a grand. We don’t want to fall on our face. We don’t want to be just barely open and owe a couple motherfuckers a grand if it didn’t work. We’re trying to get sponsors to hedge some of that. We don’t want to fall on our asses.”
Livestreaming shows is in Lola’s future regardless, he said. “Streaming, gonna give it a whirl,” he said. “Gonna call sponsors. Gonna cost a little bit to set up and figure out how to pay the bands because it’s a whole new thing, so many variables nobody ever dealt with before.”
By TCU, livestreaming will dovetail with the in-person concert experience at The Moon, said owner Chris Maunder. “Trend-wise,” he said, “streaming is making less and less sense. I don’t know if they’re making as much on the back end or based on the artist not giving as much, but, yes, we do have plans on getting set up for ourselves as we are ramping back up and are able to put on live shows. [Livestreaming] is definitely an outlet we want to take advantage of.”
Everyone wants to go back to work and for life to return to as close to normal as it may be from here on out. We still need to be safe. COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus, meaning that we have no built-up immunity or resistance to it. There also is no vaccine. I highly recommend maintaining social distancing guidelines wherever you go and wearing a mask — it’s not to protect you, dotards. It’s to keep you from infecting others if you are sick and don’t know it yet because COVID-19 has an incubation period of 14 days and you can be asymptomatic in that period of time yet still infect others. People who are highly susceptible to the virus, like Grandma and Grandpa, sure would appreciate you not infecting them because they could very well likely die a horrible death as a result. I do not recommend throwing warehouse parties with hundreds of other entitled, privileged self-scopophiliacs and acting as if COVID-19 is just the flu because it’s not. Plus, I “just” had the flu a couple of years ago. You know what? It fucking suuucked. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, even Corey Mobley — the Fort Worth guy who threw the afore-referenced warehouse party over the weekend — or any of his “friends.” #adultsactingliketeens
“I get that we have options,” Parish wrote, “but our options at this point are be fucked or stay fucked. It’s not a fun time to be in this industry.” — Anthony Mariani