I don’t know what Gov. Greg Abbott does in bars, other than probably look for a way out as quickly as possible (get thee behind me, Satan!), but for the rest of us, we pull up stools with a friend or two, sip on a drink or five, and zone out or chat with whoever we came with and whoever’s behind the bar. I understand people like me may not represent the typical bargoer. I also understand that as a former young person, bargoers tend to engage other bargoers who may be perfect strangers and may ask them to dance and maybe swap phone numbers and/or spit. Maybe everyone should carry around a thermometer. Maybe I should invent a thermometer app. (Don’t steal my idea. Punk.)
I also know the difference between a “bar” and a “club” and the differences between a “bar,” a “club,” and a “venue,” a place that may also be a bar or club. Try to keep up. Bars are places where you go to have a drink or drinks. Maybe there’s a TV. Maybe not. Or maybe there’s a jukebox. Whatever the case, you’re there for the booze. Clubs are places where you go to have a drink or drinks and dance. Venues are places where you go to have a drink or drinks, or not, and be regaled by a live performance, which may possibly lead to dancing and more drinks. Now throw in a large outdoor area, and you can see, there’s more to the term “bar” than Abbott may lead us to believe.
Brian Forella feels that the governor’s new mandate that all bars must re-close should not be sweeping. Not all bars –– or “bars” –– are the same. His Lola’s Trailer Park offers 6,300 square feet of outdoor space. He feels his bar and others like his are way safer than, say, a church or a hair salon or a gym, indoor spaces that Abbott has not re-closed for whatever reason. Possible answer: Get thee behind me, Satan!
“I think bars should be able to submit a plan on a case-by-case basis at the very least,” Forella said. “To say it’s the bars’ fault for opening too early is irresponsible.”
It’s not the bars’ faults. Our leadership said opening could be done safely and effectively. Our leadership are the ones (allegedly) consulting with the experts and analyzing the scientific data. Bar owners are in the business of slinging drinks, not legislating safety measures for entire communities. Our leadership quite simply failed us.
“I thought we opened up too early,” said Ryan Higgs, co-owner of MASS on the Near Southside, referring to the Republic of Texas, not his progressive venue. “I was hoping for a significant flattening of the curve for a continued 14 days. We must open when the state declares it because we lease our building.”
Like MASS, pretty much every other bar on the planet also leases its space. The pressure is now on landlords, who may have postponed rent or knocked it down a few bills in the past but might not want or be able to be as helpful now. It’s been months since the original shutdown, and savings are drying up.
“I was trying to do the right thing,” Forella said about reopening. “The Trailer Park is mostly outside, so I thought we were doing a good job. I was struggling through but at least open. I had a pretty good feeling about moving forward with the landlords until the second shutdown. I have meetings this week, so I guess we will see. They have been very helpful so far.”
From 15 employees, Lola’s –– the Trailer Park and the adjacent Saloon –– is down to five. Forella said he no longer has any plans to livestream shows. He’s actually trying to pivot, “so when we re-open, we won’t be so reliant on live music,” which may come as a shock to regulars and music lovers who have come to see Lola’s as the place for regular, progressive, original, often local live music in town.
Part of that change in direction involves focusing on Dayne’s Craft Barbecue. The mobile restaurant at the Trailer Park wants to expand its days of operation, but the Trailer Park needs to be open first, Forella said.
Curbside food would be an option. Curbside booze, Forella said, would not, even though Abbott recently said bars can deliver mixed-drinks curbside.
The Post will be taking advantage of that, curbside drinks and food. The Race Street venue with the breezy patio was nearly fully staffed before the second shutdown, said Post entertainment manager D. Brooks Kendall. Now only two hourly employees remain.
“The recent order to close caught us off guard and is more difficult this time than before,” he said. “Yesterday, we had to let 10 people go, which is going to cause true hardship for some of them.”
Canceling more shows and events has also hurt the venue, Kendall said. “Our model is heavy on presale tickets. As a result, the burden of constant ticket refunds has become fairly heavy.”
The Post will likely continue its livestreaming series, Live in an Empty Room, as Kendall thinks of other ways to generate digital content. Kendall and company will also continue helping out in the community. During the recent shutdown, they delivered food to hospital workers and raised money to replenish food banks.
“It is likely we will continue to do those types of things where we can,” he said.
Being shut down also shuts down plans. “We are learning that planning is difficult,” Kendall said.
Curbside at The Post will start Friday. “The takeout model is not a winner for us,” he said, “but at this point, it is all we can do.”
MASS, whose staff of about eight has been cut in half, Higgs said, will continue its popular livestreaming event, the Social Distancing Concert Series, but not offer curbside drinks.
For Higgs, he feels obligated to open when the governor says he can. It’s part of MASS’ mission. “We will reopen when bars are allowed to, and we will continue to do one-band bills. Music needs to be heard, and we will do what we can to bring that to our community.”
Higgs is worried about the independent live music industry in general. While we don’t know about “bars,” indie venues appear to be in trouble. The National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) has started a campaign to work with legislators to ensure live music always has a home in every city. #SaveOurStages hopes to spur federal assistance that ensures independent venues and promoters won’t go under.
“If concerts don’t resume in 2020,” NIVA says, “90% of independent venues across America will most likely not open again. Ever. Including the venues in our community.”
Could you imagine Fort Worth without Lola’s, MASS, or The Post? It’s saddening to think.
For more visit, SaveOurStages.com.