Oshkosh bars shut doors a second time

Oshkosh bars shut doors a second time

Andrew Haese, Reporter

Oshkosh bars must shut their doors until May 20 after Winnebago County extended the Safer-at-Home order, one day after the Wisconsin Supreme Court invalidated the statewide emergency.

Sam Munch, an employee at Jansen’s Bar and Restaurant on Bowen Street, said they were open for only a few hours before they were forced to close once again.

“There were a couple of people in here at that time and we had to say, ‘Hey, guys, this happened and you’re going to have to [leave],’” Munch said.

In a 4-3 decision, the state Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that Wisconsin Health Secretary Andrea Palm overreached when she extended the Safer-at-Home order to May 26.

The ruling briefly lifted all restrictions and limitations imposed on businesses and gatherings, leaving individual county or city health departments responsible for setting guidelines in their communities.

Gov. Tony Evers told reporters Wednesday evening that Republican legislators convinced members of the Supreme Court to throw the state into chaos, as counties had only a small window of time to create plans of their own.

After the order was lifted, the Tavern League of Wisconsin, a nonprofit trade association advocating for bars across the state, quickly told members to “open immediately” via social media.

Local bars including The Magnet Billiards and Bar on Main Street and French Quarter on High Avenue did not hesitate to open their doors to eager patrons, according to bar employees.

“As soon as we heard that we were going to open up, we did immediately,” said Desmund Nyback, general manager of The Magnet Billiards and Bar. “We’ve all been itching to actually be open.”

Employees said their openings were highly praised by their regular customers, even though many of their beverage options were extremely limited.

“Everybody understood when we didn’t have things,” Nyback said. “As a matter of fact, the first customers that came in, I had to go through three different drinks to make sure that I could get them something.”

Many bars said they sold back their carbon dioxide tanks during the quarantine, causing them to sell only the bare minimum of bottled beer, along with other hard liquors they had on hand.

Nyback said The Magnet’s customers were still content despite their low stock, as it forced them to branch out to different types of beverages they would not have tried otherwise.

Two students who went to French Quarter on Wednesday night said they went to the bar to see how many people were out and if the bars were prepared.

“I don’t think they were prepared,” Stephanie Monroe, a UW Oshkosh junior said. “I know for sure they weren’t offering a lot of beer. Their fridges were nearly empty.”

Jacob Banfield, Monroe’s boyfriend, found out about the bar’s opening through messages on social media.

“My friend has one of the bartenders as a friend on Snapchat,” Banfield said.  “He put it in our group chat that they were opening.”

Banfield said the bar was packed with young adults and many of the employees were not taking proper safety precautions, such as wearing facemasks or gloves.

“The bouncer had a mask on and was wearing gloves when we first got there, so were the bartenders as well,” he said. “But as the night went on, they took them off.”

Saša Miladinovic, a senior at UWO, said she chose to stay home after seeing bars post about their openings on social media.

“Within minutes, I saw things on my Snapchat story and to me, I feel like you can sit at home and have a beer,” she said. “I just don’t understand the people who felt it was necessary to get up out of their house, when they could have been saving money and doing it at home and being safer.”

Miladinovic said a worker for French Quarters told her their maximum capacity was set at 100 people.

However, after looking at pictures and videos posted to Snapchat, she said it looked like there were far more than  100 people in the space.

“I genuinely just want to see more common sense from people that tend to the bar because they should have limited how many people were allowed in,” she said.

The Winnebago County Health Department issued a press release Thursday stating they would put strategies in place that would protect the safety and well-being of residents and businesses, initiating a countywide safer-at-home order until May 20.

The department wrote that the underlying threat of COVID-19 remains present in the community and after investigating the circumstances of the virus appearing locally, said it would adopt a phased approach to reopening the economy.

As the state meets certain gating criteria based on statewide public health data, each phase will start to allow larger mass gatherings in local businesses and public areas, according to the department.

With the countywide order remaining in effect until 8 a.m. on May 20, other local bars kept their doors closed and said they are still going to take their time and open responsibly to protect their employees and customers.

Trevor Johnson, a manager at Dublin’s Irish Pub on Ninth Avenue, said he did not think it was prudent to make any rash decisions on Wednesday, instead discussing plans with his employees and deciding to wait and reopen on May 20.

Johnson plans to take out larger tables and stools and replace benches with smaller, round tables to give customers more space and allow social distancing.

“Some people will want to gather in groups,” he said. “We’re not allowing groups over six. We want to give people their space.”

Andy’s Pub and Grill is taking the same approach as Dublin’s by creating a plan for reopening while strictly following Winnebago County’s decisions and guidelines, employee Bethany Delmore said.

The guidelines set by Winnebago County highly encourage restaurants to follow Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation’s guidance reports, with the Tavern League of Wisconsin also following suit.

The nonprofit shared on social media: “The result of this decision is business can open immediately. Please follow the WEDC guidelines you can find on the TLW website.”

Nyback said as soon as establishments get a wind of being able to open, they are going to do it, and that excitement is what drove bars like The Magnet and French Quarter to open for the short amount of time they could.

“We’re all adults,” he said. “I’m pretty sure that we can decide that maybe it’s time to stop this and see what we can do. It’s all such a hit or miss thing.”

However, others are skeptical and still weary of the spread and impact social gatherings can bring.

“I’m sorry, but just because the order was lifted does not mean the coronavirus left with it,” Miladinovic said.