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Bars in California Will Reopen This Week

Individual counties must make the final call

California will allow bars to reopen for sit-down drinking on June 12
Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Bars across California can reopen for drinkers on Friday, state officials said, in counties that hit the milestones for COVID-19 testing and infection rates that permit the next phase of reopening.

Last Friday afternoon, Mark Ghaly, the secretary of the California Health and Human Services agency, announced that a new group of businesses including breweries and wineries, hotels, and “family entertainment” venues like bowling alleys and miniature golf courses, in addition to bars, can all resume business as of Friday, June 12, as part of the state’s third stage of reopening.

While bars that serve food (prepared themselves, or with a partner) have been allowed to serve takeout and delivery, booze-only drinking spots have been closed since at least March 15, when Governor Gavin Newsom ordered their shutdown in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus.

As with all of California’s openings, that doesn’t mean that as of Friday, the doors to every bar in the state will open wide for thirsty customers; counties that want to allow their bars to reopen must first contact the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and provide what’s called a “written attestation” that makes clear the area’s case metrics, readiness to fight an outbreak, and county-specific plans to reopen. If approved, they’ll be allowed to move into Stage 3 of reopening, which would give the green light to drinking inside or outside bars, depending on what individual counties decide to allow.

State rules for reopened bars will be the similar to those issued for restaurants nearly a month ago, including social distancing requirements of six feet between parties and maximum occupancy rules to enable space between patrons. Just as individual counties have made their own additional rules for restaurants, the same is likely to be true for bars.

Some counties are ready to reopen as soon as they’re allowed — for instance, wineries in Napa County that have been unable to reopen (since they do not serve food) were so frustrated by the food requirement that at least one filed suit against the state, alleging that the policy was discriminatory. According to a spokesperson with the Nana Valley Vintners association, wineries will open at their own pace, and with their own individual sets of protocols, so it’s a good idea to check a tasting room’s website before making a special trip.

In the central Bay Area, it’s less clear what the state guidance means for area bars. While every county except San Francisco and Alameda counties are open for outdoor dining (San Francisco’s outdoor dining begins on June 15, Alameda county has yet to announce a date), officials have been vague on reopening for bars. San Francisco, most recently, set a tentative date of “mid-August,” with multiple caveats promised as officials say that “sub-phases” of Stage 3 are likely by then.