'People understand this isn't normal': How one East Austin bar is approaching reopening after governor's announcement

Bars are allowed to open at 25% capacity on May 22, but East Austin neighborhood bar Nickel City will wait until at least June 1. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Bars are allowed to open at 25% capacity on May 22, but East Austin neighborhood bar Nickel City will wait until at least June 1. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)

Bars are allowed to open at 25% capacity on May 22, but East Austin neighborhood bar Nickel City will wait until at least June 1. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)

Bar owners in Texas were among the last in line to receive a reopening date from Gov. Greg Abbott on when they could reopen their doors to customers. On May 18, Abbott announced that after two months of mandatory shutdown, most bars in Texas could reopen May 22 to 25% capacity in what Abbott called Phase 2 of his reopening plan.

Travis Tober, the owner of East Austin neighborhood bar Nickel City, had been waiting on a date from government officials for a long time.

"I need a date and a plan, that's all I need," Tober said before the reopening announcement.

Now that he has a date, Tober said he is feeling better about putting together a plan for Nickel City's reopening, which he said will not happen until at least June 1. The bar had run a pop-up through May with frozen drinks and wings, burgers and fries from its food truck, Delray Cafe.

After a successful opening weekend, Tober said sales were cut in half on the second weekend of the pop-up, but it was always a short-term solution meant to break even until Nickel City could welcome customers back into the bars. After Memorial Day, with bar owners getting the green light to open, he said the to-go route probably will no longer be viable.

"There won't be to-go business after this weekend," Tober said.

Nickel City's soul, its value to the neighborhood and its success come from being a neighborhood bar where anyone can have a cold beer with their friends, Tober said, and that atmosphere probably will not be coming back until the fall.

Until then, the Nickel City team is having discussions about what they can offer to keep the spirit alive even under less-than-ideal circumstances.

Abbott's recommendations for bars include only providing service to seated customers at tables, not allowing anyone to loiter around the bar area, discouraging activities such as dancing that create contact and designating staff to ensure everyone is maintaining 6 feet of distance.

Along with remodeling the inside to create the necessary distance between tables, Tober said he is considering a condensed menu for the rest of the summer and possibly dropping Plexiglass in front of the bar to separate bartenders from customers.

"People understand this isn't normal. So we'll do the best and the most fun thing we can do with these limited options," Tober said.


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