With bars and restaurants across Minnesota facing one last call for at least the next month because of COVID-19, pubs across the Twin Cities decided it was time to get creative in hopes of draining their kegs.
From the “Kill Our Kegs” party at Tin Cup’s where domestic tap beers sold for only $2, to Tiffany Sports Lounge featuring throwback prices on food and drink, a number of metro establishments were hoping to attract full houses Thursday and Friday to bolster their bottom line before shutting down on-site service at 10 p.m. Friday under orders from Gov. Tim Walz.
But along with the specials came concerns that such last-gasp promotions could attract too many thirsty customers and turn into potential virus superspreader events.
“Minnesota is facing a major crisis. The amount of community spread across our state makes any gathering outside your immediate household very risky,” Kris Ehresmann, infectious disease director for the Minnesota Department of Health, said in an e-mail. “It’s extremely risky and harmful for groups of people from different households to gather closer than six feet apart and not wear masks. This is true not just at midnight [Friday], but right now.”
She added: “It’s critically important that people take these measures to heart and do their part to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 right now and in the weeks ahead. Anything else prolongs the pandemic pain for all of us and puts those around you at greater risk.”
With COVID-19 case counts skyrocketing across Minnesota, Walz this week ordered bar and restaurant owners to close up indoor bar service once again, this time for four weeks. Establishments can still offer takeout, drive-through and delivery service, however.
Gidget Bailey, owner of Tin Cup’s in St. Paul, expressed frustration with the shutdown order, the second since March. She said she was careful to space out tables at the Rice Street pub and require employees and customers to wear masks in recent months in hopes of helping to prevent potential virus spread.
In promoting the “Kegs” event, Bailey said she hoped to generate as much revenue as possible before turning off the lights and temporarily laying off employees.
“The first time, it was only going to be 10 days and it turned into 12 weeks. We lost our shirts,” she said of this spring’s statewide shutdown, which lasted until June. “I’m not out to make a profit. I’m just trying to recoup something.”
The Pourhouse Uptown in Minneapolis offered 2-for-1 deals on food, beer and cocktails from 5 to 10 p.m. both Thursday and Friday. So did Icehouse, where owner Brian Liebeck said the bar was offering happy hour prices up to the last possible minute to shed inventory. Traffic, however, was “light.”
“I think people are worried, and rightfully so,” he said.
But for some establishments, the promotions seemed to be paying off.
At Tiffany’s in St. Paul’s Highland Park, groups of young adults crowded around large tables Thursday night, drinking beer at steep discounts. Food, too, was priced to move. Everything on the menu was priced at $7.71, in honor of the year the bar opened — 1971.
“This is our favorite place so we don’t want them to go out of business,” said Abbie Smith as she sat at a table of fellow University of St. Thomas alumni who graduated last year. “It just feels like home.”
Maddie Johnson said the group hasn’t been going out a lot, but felt like Thursday night was “one last hurrah” before the new restrictions go into effect.
At another table, three University of Minnesota students were divvying up the tab. The students said they stopped at Tiffany’s to support local business.
“I feel really bad for the restaurants and the bars,” said Mikayla Gilles, a server at another restaurant, adding that she believes the restrictions are necessary.
Brent Montpetit, Tiffany’s general manager, said business was bustling in the final nights before the shutdown at the Highland Park eatery that’s been in his family for three generations.
“We’ve been here for 50 years and we hope to be here 50 more,” he said. The restrictions are “frustrating, but I understand why it’s being done.
“I’m very OK playing my part in that, but I hope to be compensated. How can [the government] expect us not to go out of business if they don’t help us?”
At DeGidio’s on W. 7th Street in St. Paul, owner Jason Tschida said the pandemic has cost the 80-year-old Italian bar and restaurant more than $1 million in revenue. Absent additional financial help from the state and federal governments, “there’s a good chance we won’t be here” once the pandemic finally ends, he said.
DeGidio’s sent an e-mail to local businesses earlier this week to entice customers to stop in and help draw down its liquor inventory before Friday night’s closing.
“Indoor dining is going to be shut down once again beginning this weekend,” it read. “We didn’t get much notice to trim our inventory so we’re offering a [buy one, get one] on ALL beverages until the close down begins! Come on in and help us make the inventory count real simple next Monday!”
“Whatever I can get in the bank is a plus,” Tschida said. “Everyone’s savings are gone.”
Over on Hamline Avenue in St. Paul, the Nook was bustling Thursday night, with customers seated at every other table beneath neon signs and a few waiting at the entrance to be seated. One big draw — pints were selling for $3.
“As you can see right now, we’re at full capacity,” said Hannah Lane, a server who was organizing to-go orders behind the bar. “To-gos have been insane.”
“I think everyone’s just getting out one last night,” Lane said.
Vishal Shanker and Bret Petersen were doing just that.
“We just want to get that one last experience,” Shanker said. He said supporting the local restaurant was “the right thing to do at this point.”