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19 Jun 2020

Disregarding the Guidance: Live Music Has Returned to Some Local Restaurants and Bars—Even Though the Government Says It Shouldn't Be Allowed

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On May 22, restaurants in Riverside County were given the OK to reopen for dine-in service; three weeks later, on June 12, bars were given the go-ahead.

However, because the coronavirus continues to spread, the permission to reopen came with restrictions: Tables and/or seats have to be six feet apart. Masks are required when a customer is not at his or her table. And—according to the state guidelines—most entertainment is not allowed.

The state of California’s COVID-19 Industry Guidance for Restaurants, Bars and Wineries, last updated on June 5 and being echoed by Riverside County, states: “This guidance is not intended for concert, performance, or entertainment venues (which are not yet allowed to be open). Restaurants, bars and wineries must discontinue this type of entertainment until these types of activities are allowed to resume modified or full operation. All events or gatherings that would bring together persons from different households, such as private parties, must be cancelled or postponed until further notice.”

Despite these guidelines, some local bars and restaurants have been promoting live performances anyway. We reached out to five of these restaurants—and received no response from four of them: Palm Canyon Roadhouse, Wildest Restaurant, AJ’s on the Green, and Bernie’s Lounge and Supper Club. Only Lana Ristich, the owner of Chef George’s Restaurant in Bermuda Dunes, returned messages from the Independent.

“We decided to bring entertainment back, because now things are very slow,” Ristich said. “The season is over now. It would be a completely different story if this was happening in March, when we were so busy. Now, in June, it’s slow, so we decided to have entertainment, which is usually only one guy or girl on the stage, because it’s not a big deal. No one’s dancing or doing anything like they were before; they’re simply having a good time.”

Ristich said Chef George’s has limited the number of people who can be in the building, per the mandates.

“We are from Serbia, and restaurants and hotels are all open all over Europe,” Ristich said. “Everyone’s having a good time; no one cares about the virus. American television spreads so much fear about the virus. I understand being careful, and all of our employees and customers wear masks, but you have to take it off to eat. If you have the virus, how are you going to protect yourself that way? It doesn’t make any sense. We are just adhering to the code, and our bar only fits about 20 people now.”

Ristich said she believes that allowing live music back into people’s lives will help them deal with this new normal.

“Virus is virus,” Ristich said. “I know it’s killing people, but people still have to live their life. If someone is sick, they are not going to go out. Older people should stay home, but younger generations with better immune systems might get sick from something worse by just staying home. I’m not so crazy about COVID-19. Everything is going step-by-step, but I think everything is OK with music in restaurants. It’s good to see people in our restaurant listening to live music with a drink in their hand. It reminds me of the old times.”

Meanwhile, other bars and restaurants that normally offer entertainment are following the state’s guidelines—and possibly sacrificing business by doing so. One such place is The Hood Bar and Pizza in Palm Desert, which in “normal” times is one of the busiest entertainment venues in the valley.

“We are taking this extremely cautiously,” said Brad Guth, the owner of The Hood. “We take the guidelines very seriously for the safety of ourselves and the customers. The county is discouraging live music, so at the moment, we are not going to proceed with live music until we see what the case rate looks like in Riverside County. We’re planning to reintroduce karaoke and bingo within the next couple of weeks—with beer pong being the last thing we bring back.

“We are going with what the county says to do regardless of what other places are doing, which has been hard for customers to understand. I take both my health and the health of my employees and customers very seriously. The county is discouraging large crowds, and we are doing the same. We’ve cut hours and limited space, and we just want people to be safe.”

Guth said the fact that some places are allowing live entertainment despite the state’s guidance is confusing both customers and local performers.

“It’s been very difficult to explain why we are following the guidelines to customers,” he said. “It’s inconsistent throughout the valley, as some places are having entertainment again, and some are not. … I just can’t, with any good conscience, put myself or my staff in danger. We’ve had incidents where people have been crowding the bar late at night when we’ve asked them not to, and it’s hard to control.

“It’s almost as if we’re the police now. We don’t want to be the police; we just want to be an enjoyable place to go, and ensure safety for all.”

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