How Some Northern Kentucky Bar Owners Are Keeping Their Doors (or Windows) Open for Business

Screen Shot20200818At6 04 00PMJerry’s Jug House knocked out some glass block to install a carry-out windowPhoto: facebook.com/jerrysjughouse

Northern Kentucky bar owners have been forced to make a long string of tough decisions since COVID-19 began impacting nearly every aspect of their lives. With the latest order from Governor Andy Beshear dictating that bars and restaurants may only operate limited hours (last call for food and drink is 10 p.m. and closing time is 11 p.m.) and at 50% indoor capacity if social distancing is possible, an industry with already tight profit margins is being strained to near breaking point as many business owners attempt to survive the pandemic — financially and literally. 

Things have changed drastically from a customer’s viewpoint as well. The service and convenience once accepted as status quo has had to reconfigure into something that protects employees and clientele alike from the risk of exposure to COVID-19, which results in a lot of frustration and slashed profitability. Several Kentucky bars have responded to these unprecedented times with new business approaches.

Jerry’s Jug House is a cozy fixture in Newport known for its flaked ice cocktails, great draft features and retail liquor, wine and beer. Co-owner Stuart MacKenzie says he and the staff take the pandemic day by day. They’ve done their best to maintain a presence for their regulars and credit the community for their continuous support. 

“The more we learn about the virus, the more the government policies change and adapt,” MacKenzie says. “We plan to continue to roll with the punches and try and find creative ways to serve people safely.”

In this case, “creative ways” means knocking out a glass-block window in the storefront and replacing it with a takeout window: 

“It serves two purposes: to serve booze without people coming inside and also to greatly improve air circulation. The City of Newport has been super supportive and let us build a patio on the street in front of the bar, so we only have outdoor seating right now to be extra safe,” MacKenzie says. 

You can order beer, wine, packaged liquor and cocktails — like their Jell-O shots or bagged bourbon peach iced tea — to-go online and pick it up between 4 and 8 p.m.

Peter Newberry of Newberry Bros. Coffee and Prohibition Bourbon Bar in Newport decided to close up his bar and coffee shop on March 8, a full week and a half before most businesses took any action. There are too many bars ignoring the governor’s orders, Newberry posits. He says the people who complain about not being able to go out and live their lives like everything is back to normal are the ones who are contributing to the extended and worsening state of affairs.    

“I looked around and I told my wife Kim, ‘This is just the worst environment in the world for spreading a contagious disease.’ (The United States) did this sort of haphazard shutdown in the spring, different states, different areas shut down for three, four or five weeks, but it’s just silly. I mean, if we nationally shut down for six weeks we would basically get the virus under control and then you could contact trace test and isolate it right now,” Newberry says.

Newberry Bros. Coffee recently reopened for takeout of their popular croissants and pastries every Sunday. Per Kentucky law, alcoholic drinks like mimosas, bloody marys, Irish coffee and the like are available only with breakfast orders. 

You can place a pre-order for pick-up online at newberrybroscoffee.com. You can get bottles of bourbon, wine, bagged coffee, cocktails and coffee to-go and homemade pastries including their popular goetta and cheddar croissant. Pick-up is between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Sundays.

Survival is the main priority for Aleta Bergsman, owner of Ludlow Tavern. She worries how hard her tavern’s bottom line will be affected by the mandate requiring bars to stop serving by 10 p.m..

“Although the community support has been amazing, the restricted hours will be tough,” Bergsman says. “People are deciding not to go out because their night will have to end early. We also did a good amount of sales after 10 p.m., especially on the weekends. I feel like these hour restrictions will end up encouraging house parties, which are not in a controlled environment like bars and restaurants, and lead to the continuing spread of COVID.”

While Bergsman and the team were already dedicated to maintain a clean and safe environment for themselves and their customers, they, along with every responsible business owner, have scaled up their sanitation regimen. This is in spite of a widely reported shortage on essential cleaning supplies.

“At first, we had problems with getting some cleaning supplies, gloves, and some food products,” Bergsman says. “Either it was out of stock or the cost went up significantly. Now, I haven’t had too much problem but prices are still high. I had to make some adjustments to the menu and prices but overall, it hasn’t affected the business too much.”

How can the public continue to aid their favorite locally owned businesses during the pandemic? Tip the staff as generously as you can and be patient with any changes to service. Buy gift cards, order takeout or delivery, recommend them to your friends and family and, most importantly, follow health guidelines so we can all get through the pandemic as soon as possible. 

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