PROVINCETOWN — Gov. Charlie Baker’s reopening plan puts restaurants on one side of a line and bars on another. Restaurants can be open now for outdoor dining, indoor dining, and takeout. But bars have been moved from phase three to phase four, which means they can’t open until an effective vaccine or treatment for Covid-19 is developed, which is many months away.
Provincetown is still exploring exactly where, how, and when that line is drawn. The town has a new rule forbidding alcohol sales after 11 p.m.; it is an effort to keep bar-like behavior from happening after dinner service is over.
When it comes to virus transmission, the biggest difference between a bar and a restaurant seems to revolve around patrons’ behavior. Are they milling about, mingling, and shouting at each other over loud music? Or are they seated at a table, staying with their own party? Provincetown has been making its decisions based on that question: allowing bars to open if they commit to serving food at tables, and ending alcohol service early, so that restaurants don’t become a mill-about location.
When Bars Become Restaurants
“On a provisional basis, for just this season, the town let license holders convert from a bar license to a restaurant license,” said Steve Katsurinis, chair of Provincetown’s board of health and a member of the town manager’s recovery coalition. “Every party that comes in has to be seated at a table and has to be served food.”
Serving food means that the business can be considered a restaurant under Gov. Baker’s reopening orders, and it also means that patrons are assigned a table and are expected to stay there.
Shipwreck Lounge, Harbor Lounge, the Gifford House’s Porchside Bar, and the Boatslip’s Buoy Bar have all reopened under these terms, with new food options and table service instead of bar service, according to Provincetown’s health director, Morgan Clark. The Atlantic House and the Old Colony Tap are in discussions with town staff about serving food as well, said Assistant Town Manager David Gardner, but their kitchens still need to pass inspection.
“We did an inspection on the A-House, and they needed to make upgrades to their kitchen to qualify,” said Gardner. “I just received a note today that they have done that and are seeking a re-inspection, which we will do ASAP. If they pass, then they will be permitted to open.”
At the Boatslip’s ocean-facing deck, meanwhile, the crowded afternoon tea dance has been replaced by tables, cabanas, and waiters. Staying tied to a table is quite a change for venues that are famous for dancing — but with dance floors on hold until a vaccine or treatment is available, many bars would rather focus on food than be closed.
When Restaurants Become Bars
The joint meeting of Provincetown’s select board and board of health on July 2 took action to solve the opposite situation — when restaurants, finished with dinner service, start to evolve into crowded bar scenes. Under the prior terms of their licenses, restaurants were free to close their kitchens after dinner but continue to serve alcohol until 1 a.m. Now that alcohol-infused social mixing is a health risk, the boards voted to have drink service in Provincetown end at 11 p.m., by which time most seated diners have finished their meals.
“At some point, when no one is having dinner anymore, you’re not a restaurant, you’re a bar,” said Katsurinis. “It looks like a bar, and it has the risks of transmission of a bar.
“My experience with businesses is that they really want to do the right thing — and they’re going to go right up to the line of what’s permitted,” Katsurinis continued. “They’re going to try to make money for themselves and their staff, and I think that’s understandable. That’s why it’s important to make a rule.”
“I have heard from a number of people that 11 p.m. is agreeable to those who are in the business themselves,” said select board member Louise Venden. “That will allow people to finish their dinner, enjoy themselves, relax, and … not have to worry about the restaurant turning into a bar, with people overindulging.”
The boards voted unanimously to end alcohol service in all venues at 11 p.m.
Serving Food or ‘Serving Food’
Although not a member of either board, Bob Cameron, the chair of the licensing board, was also asked to speak at the July 2 meeting.
“We laid out guidelines, but there is still a group of business owners who are not going to do the right thing,” Cameron said. “It comes down to serving someone a bag of chips so they can drink four margaritas. That is a policy that is going on in some of the establishments, and I believe that is the problem that needs to be addressed. You always have a small group that don’t feel the rules apply to them.”