At present and under the orders of the Public Health Officer of Los Angeles County, bars and nightclubs remain closed as of March 1, 2021. This has been the case in LA County and most other parts of California and especially after the surge in Covid-19 cases which occurred over last years’ holidays, culminating with the New Year 2021. For a brief period, some establishments which served food on site were able to open last Summer. But for the most part bars, nightclubs, pool halls and other establishments have been closed for nearly a year.
Sadly, some long-standing gay establishments are not going to recover from this pandemic. The toll of lease payments and on-going expenses coupled with the loss in revenue will be hard to overcome.
Other well-known and highly frequented LGBT establishments in LA and other parts of California are eager to return to business. For instance, West Hollywood’s Trunks Nightclub, a long-standing gay bar on the Santa Monica strip is eager to re-open. In speaking to Trunk’s owner Waldo, the bar has been closed since March 15, 2020. Waldo says being closed for nearly a year has hurt the business, the employees and he the owner. “It is pretty hard on us and especially because we did not receive any assistance from the Paycheck Protection Program or PPP or other larger sources of funding for small businesses.” He says he’s had to cover the on-going costs of Trunks using his own personal savings which are now depleted. When asked how he continues to hang on in light of this difficult situation, Waldo, who also owns the Trunks Bar in Palm Springs quickly says, “we will stay in business no matter what.” “If they tell me I can open at 10 % or 20%, I’ll open at that. I just need to open to make the money for rent.”
When I spoke to Waldo, he was at Trunks doing maintenance and hoping that he and other like bar and nightclub owners will soon get the green light from LA County Public Health to re-open at some level.
However, he and other local bar owners say they have not heard anything from the local Health Department yet. Their source of information is the county health department’s website which they keep checking for updates. But when will bars and nightclubs being to return? Is this dependent on the community’s vaccination level or the point in time when we reach “herd immunity”?
On the vaccine front, more and more persons in Los Angeles and California are getting vaccinated. According to Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, 1.7 million residents have received at least their First Vaccine Dose as of February 24, 2021. In California, 7.7 million doses of vaccines have been administered, which includes first and second doses. So, the numbers are climbing of those vaccinated. To add to this, beginning on March 1, 2021, persons who are in certain classes of Essential Workers, mainly those in food service, food retail establishments, teachers, childcare workers, and emergency workers will be eligible. This will be in addition to health care workers and persons 65 and over. This is a huge group of persons and one can assume this is the exact population that comprises a good percentage of those who frequent bars and other nightlife establishments. Also, on March 15, people with pre-existing conditions will be eligible for vaccination. Between these two categories, a large segment of the Los Angeles County and California’s eligible population will be vaccinated.
Does this mean the bars and nightclubs will have the opportunity to resume operations soon? Well, this could be the beginning of that. But what precautions and changes will have to be made to make these establishments safe for customers?
Waldo says Trunks will open-up with the precautions necessary to protect its customers. These include allowing for proper distancing for the clients, the use of hand sanitizers and other measures.
Waldo says customers have been checking in with him regularly. “I feel very confident that customers will come back.”
Jaime Awad of Club Papi Productions says the gay nightlife will be back when people can come inside and dance again.
“I want to be able to party in the safest possible conditions for myself, my staff and my customers,” says Jaime. “I’m led to believe that the best way for this to occur is the community being vaccinated at very high levels.” Also, “Let’s hope and pray that these Covid-19 variants don’t get out of hand.”
Signs pointing to the return of bars and nightclubs can be seen in a couple of examples. For instance, San Francisco’s Castro district and some venues in Long Beach have several venues where drag brunches are happening outside. But this still is not inside the clubs.
What will it look like when folks are allowed back inside a nightclub, with music, dancing and shows? Will it be a situation where persons will need to show an ID card and attest that they have been vaccinated for Covid-19? When will clubs be able to open for dance nights where one could potentially remove their masks? This all waits to be seen.
Certain communities around the country are handling this very differently. For instance, the MGM Resorts announced it will soon resume live shows. It is said that as of May 1, 2021, Las Vegas will open-up to bars and nightclubs with few restrictions. Florida bars and nightclubs are said to be wide open with no on-site food requirements and relatively few restrictions.
How does the LA and California bar and club life get back open again? Considerations about increasing the floor/bar/nightclub space in the venues might be a solution for those venues with potential additional capacity. Perhaps extending the club space to outside areas including parking lots and side-walk space open to the air to expand the venues could help.
Some venues in other parts of the country are requiring masks on the dance floors with strict rules of no drinking while dancing on the dance floors as well.
Jaime believes “we need to achieve a 90% vaccination rate where people can feel comfortable and will come back.” Achieving “herd immunity” and potential vaccine booster shots for strains which emerge is the best way forward, according to him.
For at least the short term, can nightclubs exist without dancing or drag shows inside the venue, or perhaps moving dancing and music to the outside? Noise ordinances in California would be a consideration for this. Will club goers be comfortable with nightclubs taking temperatures, asking them to wear a mask with no drinking on the dance floors? Or even asking for vaccination proof? The path forward will certainly become known real soon.