Allegheny County Bar and Restaurant Owners Say New Alcohol Restrictions Will Hurt

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Mark Phillippi, owner of the Phillippi family restaurant and pizzeria in Harrison, is suddenly affected by geography.

On Tuesday night, his restaurant in the extreme north of Allegheny County will not be able to serve alcohol to customers by county order.

“It makes absolutely no sense,” Phillippi said Monday. “Tell me why people sitting at a dinner table can’t have an alcoholic drink, but can they sit down and have dinner? Does that mean that if we all drank and wanted to protest, we couldn’t do it because we were drinking, but if we were sober and wanted to go indoors and protest, can we?

He noted Harrison’s proximity to Armstrong and Westmoreland counties, where there are no such restrictions.

Dr. Debra Bogen, director of the Allegheny County Health Department, issued the order Sunday that will take effect at 5 pm Tuesday.

“I can drive a mile up the hill and eat and drink whatever I want,” said a puzzled Phillippi. “I can drive over the Tarentum Bridge and eat and drink whatever I want.”

Driving over the Tarentum Bridge could lead people to Harry’s Bar & Grill in New Kensington, where bar manager Joe Molnar said the staff is taking everything greedy-related one day at a time.

“There are so many unknown things,” said Molnar. “Everything changes every day. We keep adapting. “

Further south in the county, the Brick House Tap & Grill is within walking distance of the Allegheny County Border on Route 30 in Irwin. Manager Craig Stahl said the challenge for his staff will be to balance health and safety guidelines with a potential increase in business.

“I could see that was happening with us on the border, especially in places like White Oak,” Stahl said. “That is going to be difficult to control, but we have been taking steps to do so.”

As the weekend approaches and business recovers, it can be more difficult, he said.

“On our normal Friday night, if we have to stop people at the door until we get to a place where we let them in, people may be waiting outside. Hopefully they know they can get takeout, too, ”Stahl said.

Sean Casey, founder and owner of Church Brew Works in Lawrenceville, prefers to look for positives amid the negative impacts coronavirus has had on the restaurant and bar industry.

Sales plummeted after the March order, limiting restaurants to carry and deliver only. But Casey points to a sales increase of about 15% since Allegheny County entered the green phase on June 5, allowing bars and restaurants to reopen for seat service.

He said he is urging his staff to be creative. The brewery plans to offer exotic nonalcoholic drinks for mints and other locally grown herbs. For the first time, their beer will be offered in cans to go.

“I’m not thinking about how far we are,” Casey said. “I’m like, look how well our sales have increased through all of this. Our business went from 98% percent down the sidewalk to 85% when we opened for dinner service. You have to look for positives.

Bogen said the virus spread among people who congregated at bars in Pittsburgh’s South Side and Oakland neighborhoods and who traveled to out-of-state access points such as Florida, Texas and the beaches along the Carolina coast. .

She said people under the influence are less likely to follow the recommended guidelines (social distancing, use of face covers, and avoiding large crowds) to stop the spread of covid-19.

Reaction to the order was mixed with some owners who deemed it nonsense and others who said it will not have a major impact on business.

Christina Mair, an associate professor of behavioral and community health sciences at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, said Bogen’s order makes sense. She said the bars present a “perfect storm” of activities that lead to the spread of the coronavirus.

Bars are high-risk places because people are together, talking, yelling and touching, Mair said. People who go out to dinner can practice social distancing and wear a mask, but a few drinks will change all that.

“It makes people more at risk than they would if they weren’t drinking,” he said. “From my own perspective, if you ask me what I’m going to do, what activities I’m going to do, big indoor and crowded events are absolutely the last thing I would do, closely followed by a bar. It’s a perfect storm of things coming together. “

Jen Grippo, owner of the iconic Oyster House in Pittsburgh’s Market Square, said the new regulations would have little impact. She said that while the bar and restaurant sections have been open, the majority of her business is food service.

“We are not the type of bar where you come and have mixed cocktails or something,” he said. “Most of our sales have been in food.”

At Independent Brewing Company in Squirrel Hill, co-owner Peter Kurzweg, writing on the IBC website, called the county’s action “understandable” in light of the increasing number of coronavirus infections, likely due to a larger number of people gathered. in bars.

But he criticized the county’s overall approach, saying “it is based on the false premise that alcohol is to blame for the transmission and ignores the fundamental problem: that the bars where the cases were broadcast were violating occupancy limits, offering seats indoors, masks were disregarded and caters to a younger party crowd. “

His post outlined the way IBC operates: reservations and outdoor seating only, tables of no more than four people, a 90-minute limit on seating hours, as one model to encourage. The problem with the new county policy is that “the same assholes who were dumb enough to get hit on the south side and in Oakland are already planning their epic house party (wow!”) Because the green phase ” allows meetings of up to 250 people. We have solved … nothing. “

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