Wednesday night was San Diego County's first night in the orange tier with lighter restrictions. The new rules provided a big boost to businesses that were once a part of the local nightlife, especially two North County bars that took risks pivoting their business models to void closure.
Under the rules of the orange tier, restaurants can up their indoor capacity to 50%. Wineries and breweries can resume indoor service at 25% capacity and bars that do not serve food are allowed to resume service, but only outdoors.
A couple of the biggest beneficiaries of the orange tier's rules are 1st Street Bar in Encinitas and The Shanty down the street in Cardiff. The former is 100 years old and the latter has been open a half-century. Both were looking at extinction at the beginning of the pandemic because they only served alcohol and not food.
"Hunkering down, shutting off electricity, Direct TV, draft services and just playing the waiting game and trying to be patient,” 1st Street Bar owner Mike Chopp said, describing his response to the early-pandemic public health orders that forced watering holes to shutter.
The Shanty also used to only serve alcohol. Like 1st Street, it catered to the late-night crowd, which disappeared at the start of the pandemic and is just now regaining its strength.
“It was difficult, it was scary. We had staff, we were worried about our employees, what was going to happen,” Shanty owner Mike Tirnetta said.
Both played possum for a short time but realized surviving meant selling food. Now that they've joined in on selling food, they can function as restaurants and operate with 50% indoor capacity.
“To take a bar and turn it into a bar-restaurant is a tough pivot to do,” Chopp said.
1st Street teamed up with a food truck and turned the parking lot next to the bar into what Chopp calls "Side Street."
“They say you have to spend money to make money,” he said. “It’s true, but we were spending money and not making money.”
Tirnetta and his business partner, Matt Lancer, added pizza by the slice to The Shanty's offerings. They bought soft-baked pizza from nearby eatery East Coast Pizza, then finished it in their own oven. They also added an outdoor patio with big screen TV, which allows them to seat nearly twice as many customers outside.
“It's a good sense of normalcy that we've all been looking forward to,” Tirnetta said, describing the scene at his bar-turned-pizza-joint on Wednesday.
The noise ordinance in The Shanty’s community prevents outdoor seating after 10 p.m., according to Tirnetta. However, the orange tier helps since some indoor dining is once again allowed.
"Now that we're able to add that inside, it definitely helps. It helps a lot,” he said.
The orange tier doesn't promise to end the struggle; between both bars, they lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales.
“I can't wait to have full live bands in here. I can't wait to have street fairs back, this placed packed like we used to. That's a an exciting time I am looking forward to,” Chopp said.
And looking forward, Chopp says, is all they can do.