MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – There’s no playbook for downtown restaurants and bars when it comes to Mardi Gras during the pandemic.
Some establishments do not even plan to be open on Fat Tuesday. Others are trying to take advantage of road closures to move the party outdoors.
LoDa Bier Garten owner Matthew Golden tells me the Mobile County Health Department has granted permission to sell drinks and food outside on Tuesday. He said he does not know exactly what type of service he will have. But he added that he is putting tables chairs outside onto the street.
Health experts have said the coronavirus spreads more easily in cramped, indoor areas than outdoors.
The key, Golden said, is to minimize the number of people inside.
“We’ll be able to social distance,” he said. “We will have outdoor areas to be able to get food and drinks available, so we’re excited about that to try to minimize the amount of people that actually do have to come inside. That way they can try to socially distance as well as they can.”
Golden said people will have to wear masks, even when outside.
Mobile police will have a beefed-up presence downtown next week, but public safety officials said they do not now wheat kind of crowds to expect.
It’s a guessing game for business owners, as well.
“With the unpredictability of what we’re looking for, especially since New Orleans is not celebrating, we don’t know if there’s gonna be an influx of people,” he said. “But we are prepared to be able to manage our crowds safely inside of our bars and restaurants in downtown Mobile.”
Whether people go inside or outside to buy drinks on Tuesday, they likely end up outside in the Dauphin Street Entertainment District. Outdoor drinking is permitted in that area.
Not every business is approaching Tuesday the same way. Roosters owner Frankie Little, said his establishment will be closed on Fat Tuesday and open Ash Wednesday instead of the other way around as typically is the case.
“This is unprecedented. This is unpredictable,” he said. “We don’t know what to expect. Because we are still in the middle of a pandemic, we don’t know what the crowds will be, and we don’t want to be overwhelmed.”
Little said there is more than just COVID-19 to worry about.
“We don’t know how to staff,” he said. “It could either be insane, or it could be dead. … We don’t want insanity.”
Golden, meanwhile, said he is aiming for controlled fun.
“This is not all week long. This is not some big free-for-all in downtown Mobile,” he said. “We are encouraging the people that are coming to downtown Mobile to please be responsible, not only for your own safety but our staff’s safety.”
The Mobile County Health Department released the following statement:
"Temporary event permits are being waived for permitted bars and food establishments within the legally defined City of Mobile Entertainment Districts, on their premises and areas approved by the City of Mobile. Inspectors will be out throughout the weekend as well as Fat Tuesday to ensure Health codes are being followed and outdoor bars comply with existing health regulations. The Governor’s Safer at Home Order remains in effect. Masking and social distancing will be required, and frequent hand sanitation is encouraged to all who attend."