Whitehall Exchange, in Bishop Arts, the first weekend that bars could reopen. (Photo by Bret Redman)

Coronavirus

The Club Is Open: Scenes From Dallas’ First Weekend of Reopened Bars

The bars are back and many drinkers didn't wait to open a tab. Scenes from Deep Ellum, Uptown, Lower Greenville, and the Cedars.

The weekend has come and gone. The people can again pour into the streets of Deep Ellum and McKinney Ave. and (what’s left of) Lower Greenville and buy a beer at a bar, so long as the bar only lets in 25 percent of its maximum occupancy. Some, like Lee Harvey’s in the Cedars opened right at midnight on Friday. Others stayed closed.

It’s the same thing you saw with restaurants. Some bars won’t be able to make it work because of their size and shape, the ones designed to get you shoulder-to-shoulder with someone. Lee Harvey’s, with its big outdoor patio, I can see that feeling OK. As you can see from the photos accompanying this post, many did.

That’s the sort of individual calculus we’re faced with every week as more of the economy reopens. I’ll go ahead and do a quick two sentence bummer reminder here that we haven’t had the sustained two week drop in new cases or hospitalizations that experts recommend we see before reopening the economy. Today brought another 190 cases, 19 more than Monday’s count. But still below the over 200 daily mark that we were logging last week. Dallas is now one of the major risk areas for a secondary spike that national publications like the Washington Post are highlighting.

After we topped 70 percent, I dug into our seemingly rising ICU bed occupancy this week and found that the people in charge weren’t concerned about capacity. Hospitals have surge plans that could transform other beds into ICU beds; last week, Parkland was treating only about 18 ICU patients when it had space for more than 100.

So right now, we’re fine on the hospital front, barring a big spike. But it feels weird to consider engaging in something as unnecessary as a bar visit when you think about what other people are having to sacrifice. Dallas County would tell you that it’s still not safe to sit in a bar or a restaurant. (It does seem, however, that transmission risk is far lower if you’re outside, masked, and away from anyone who you don’t live with.) Last weekend was graduation weekend, and it wasn’t hard to get teary-eyed via Twitter videos of drive-by celebrations. No hugging grandma. Muslims broke the Ramadan fast apart, away from the Eid celebrations that typically mark the event.

So after the core question of whether it’s safe to do X, I tend to think about how public health during a pandemic requires a mass buy-in. You saw it in South Korea after the bars opened there; one infected man came into contact with more than 7,000 others. (Texas’ contact tracing operation is peanuts comparatively, and our state government is trying and failing to hide the details.)

The economy is reopening. Today’s announcement included water parks and food courts. You will be faced with more choices; it’s only a matter of time until bars jump their capacity. You saw some—like Bottled Blonde in Deep Ellum—appear to flout the occupancy order. Others, like Lee Harvey’s, appear to be doing what they can to keep patrons safe; the interior there, for instance, isn’t open.

It would be nice to be able to celebrate graduations—and birthdays and weddings—by this time next year. In the meantime, we’ll find out in two or three weeks whether those who flocked to the bars will fuel an increase in cases.


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