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San Francisco Bars Reopen for Outdoor Drinking

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Citing positive coronavirus stats, the city is speeding up its reopening timeline

People drinking outside, Cerveceria 100 Montaditos chain bar pub, Madrid city center, Spain
Bars in San Francisco can open for outdoor drinking on June 29
Photo by: Geography Photos/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Bars in San Francisco have been in a tough spot for the last few months, as regulations that separate them from restaurants threatened to delay their reopening until mid-August. That delay has been lifted, San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced Monday, and all the pieces are in place to allow watering holes to allow outdoor drinking as of Monday, June 29.

The road for bar reopening was bumpier than that for restaurants, as while food spots (including bars that also serve as restaurants) have been allowed to serve takeout meals and drinks since March, bars with no food service had to close down altogether. When restaurants with full liquor licenses were able to launch outdoor dining on June 12, bars remained shuttered, a decision that frustrated bar owners who felt left behind — and left hanging, struggling to stay afloat with little to no income.

A sign of hope came last Tuesday, when the city’s Board of Supervisors agreed to send what’s called an attestation to the state to allow reopening at a timeline faster than might otherwise be allowed. That attestation — which provides details on how the city has managed the spread of the new coronavirus (COVID-19), as well as a plan on how it will deal with any spikes in infections — has since been sent by the city’s Department of Public Health (DPH), Breed says.

Though California officials have yet to approve that attestation and grant a variance that would allow reopening, Breed announced today that bars (and multiple other businesses, including zoos, tattoo shops, and nail salons) should expect to open for outdoor service on Monday.

“Thanks to San Franciscans’ efforts to follow health requirements, wear face coverings, and practice social distancing, our COVID-19 health indicators are in a good place and we can continue reopening our city,” Breed said via statement. “We know a lot of businesses and residents are struggling financially, and this next step will help get more San Franciscans back to work while still balancing safety.”

So, assuming the state approves the variance request, and “San Francisco continues meeting several key health indicators,” bar owners can expect a new amendment to the city’s current Stay Home Health Order to be released by the city’s Public Health Officer this week, Breed’s office says. Specific information for bar owners on how to protect patrons and drinkers will also be released later this week, DPH officials say.

This is obviously welcome news to bars that already have permits for outdoor seating, but bars that have previously been indoor-only also have options: They, too, can apply for a Shared Spaces permit, which could allow them to seat folks in the sidewalk and in parking spots outside their business.

Bars that are new to outdoor drinking will also have to apply for a Temporary Catering Authorization (TCA) from the state Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), a special pandemic-related permit launched by the ABC to allow bars to serve drinkers on sidewalks, streets, parking lots, and plazas. The application for that permit is a bit tougher than the shared spaces one, as those bars will have to submit things like a diagram of the proposed outdoor dining area, and proof that the outdoor drinking spot has the OK of local law enforcement. And unlike the Shared Spaces permit, which runs through the end of 2020, the TCA expires when the state’s COVID-19 state of emergency ends. As California’s coronavirus cases continue to rise (on Saturday, in fact, the state recorded its second-highest number of new patients since the pandemic began), it’s unlikely that that state of emergency will end anytime soon.

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