'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.


Austin bars scrap for survival during monthslong shutdown

Bars are fighting through red tape to reclassify as restaurants, offering takeout orders and finding new uses for their spaces. Local business owners said they are finding every avenue possible to survive.

According to the report, 380,174 total COVID-19 cases have been reported in children nationwide as of Aug. 6, which accounts for approximately 9.1% of all confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
REPORT: COVID-19 cases in children increase by 90% nationwide in 1 month

As school district officials across the U.S. prepare for the start of the 2020-21 school year, 179,990 new COVID-19 cases were reported in children nationwide between July 9 and Aug. 6—an increase of 90%, according to a report compiled by The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association.

Burnet Road and Braker Lane
City pushing to finish Burnet Road improvements before Austin FC stadium opener

Austin construction crews will work to finish improvements at the intersection of Burnet Road and Braker Lane in North Austin before Major League Soccer franchise Austin FC plays its first game in the upcoming stadium at McKalla Place.

Austin City Council is considering moving the forensics lab services and internal affairs department out from under the Austin Police Department and into civilian roles. (John Cox/Community Impact Newspaper)
Police cuts, community reinvestment, reimagining public safety on table as Austin City Council looks to adopt budget

City Council is considering a cut of more than a $150 million to the police budget.

The University of Texas will host football games at Darrell K. Royal Veterans Memorial Stadium this fall after an announcement from the Big 12 Conference on Aug. 12 that the fall sports season will continue. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
After Big Ten and PAC-12 cancel, Big 12 announces fall sports season will roll on

The conference football season will begin Sept. 26, and fan capacity in stadiums will be up to each of the 10 member universities, according to the Big 12.

Future Austin ISD Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde spoke to trustees at a meeting Aug. 11. (Courtesy Austin ISD)
Austin ISD makes it official, hiring Stephanie Elizalde as next superintendent

Elizalde was serving as Dallas ISD’s chief of school leadership prior to the hire.

A trial related to a speeding ticket in Pflugerville on Aug. 11 was the first-ever binding criminal jury trial to take place via videoconferencing, according to Travis County Justice of the Peace Nicholas Chu. (Courtesy Travis County Justices of the Peace)
‘You’re on mute’: Travis County pilots virtual trial by jury

The low-level misdemeanor trial featured a YouTube user commenting on a juror's cat and one potential juror—who was not selected—whose name appeared on Zoom as "Goth Brooks."

A screen shot of Dr. Mark Escott's face
Travis County health officials turn toward positivity rate to track local coronavirus risk

Recent statistics show the positivity rate for testing could be an early sign of local coronavirus trends to come.

Chief Equity Officer Stephanie Hawley speaks to trustees at a board information session Aug. 10. (Courtesy Austin ISD)
Outside equity assessment at AISD could evaluate hiring practices, past closures

A report could look at the root causes of inequities and offer the district best practices as potential solutions.