Before COVID-19, you could sip these Probation-style cocktails at Frick Park Tavern. Photo by Kristy Locklin.

After Gov. Tom Wolf gave Allegheny County eateries the green light for dine-in service on June 5, Spoonwood Brewing was ramping up and enjoying a steady business. In order to comply with safety guidelines set forth by the state, co-owner Grant Scorsone had reduced the amount of seating in the restaurant and hired more bussers, food runners and host staff, upping his payroll costs. He took it in stride as the price of safety.

Then came the Allegheny County Health Department announcement on Sunday of the ban on drinking on-site in bars and restaurants or any business establishment throughout the county. The ban, a result of a sudden spike in COVID-19 cases, is effective immediately but will not be enforced until Tuesday at 5 pm.

Scorsone says he’s ashamed of the behavior of some proprietors and patrons at other area bars, well-documented on social media, but believes the county’s decision is flawed.

“Spoonwood will weather this, but there has to be a better solution,” he says. “Because of the order, I will be furloughing most of my non-kitchen staff, simply because the numbers will not support dine-in without alcohol.”

After June 5, Bill Fuller, president of big Burrito Restaurant Group, reduced the occupancy of the company’s restaurants (Eleven and Umi aren’t open for dine-in service), performed employee temperature checks and reenforced stringent cleaning protocols. He’ll continue to do so during this latest ban even though other restaurant owners have been lax in their efforts to flatten the curve.

Fuller thinks the county’s decision is reactionary and believes penalties for non-compliance should be doled out on a case-by-case basis.

PA Secretary of Health Rachel Levine said today that contact tracing found that more young people were not practicing social distancing and were not wearing masks, particularly in bars. She also said they have no intention of going back to the yellow or red phase.

Also today,  the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage & Tavern Association sent a letter to county officials urging them to reconsider. “We find the recent decision to halt the sale of adult beverages for on-site consumption at licensed restaurants to be an overly broad brush stroke that punishes law-abiding licensed restaurant owners, employees and patrons who have followed guidance provided by both state and local officials. They shouldn’t be punished because of the actions of a few ‘bad actors.” Read the letter in full here. 

People have been posting photos of packed bars and restaurants on social media. An Il Pizzaiolo customer’s dining experience went viral after he called out the Mt. Lebanon eatery for allowing employees to go maskless and to ignore social distancing regulations. While the owner, Ron Molinaro, argued in response against the use of masks by his staff, most of the commenters said masks are necessary in defeating the virus, as is social distancing.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Allegheny County Health Department just launched online forms for reporting businesses that are not following the order.

Peter Kurzweg, co-owner of Lorelei, Hidden Harbor and The Independent Brewing Company, which offer outdoor seating, wrote a blog post today praising county officials for their quick response to the surge in COVID-19 cases but urged them to redraft their latest policy.

“The County’s move is, of course, understandable,” he wrote. “However, it’s based on the false premise that alcohol is the culprit in the transmission, and ignores the fundamental problem: that the bars where cases were transmitted were violating occupancy limits, offered indoor seating, disregarded the use of masks and catered to a younger party crowd. Their executive order, however, targeted everyone who consumed or served alcohol at a restaurant, including the many of you who responsibly joined us for the last two weeks on our patio in a safe, respectful, and well-managed environment.”

Dave Racicot, executive chef at The Commoner, has similar feelings about the county’s decision.

“I think local government is doing the best they can to navigate something we’ve never seen before and I appreciate how difficult this has to be,” he says. “That said, as an establishment that’s committed to safety, removing alcohol sales, especially table service or cocktail service, is troubling. It’s a shame that establishments and patrons that are taking safety seriously have to suffer consequences from those who do not. I strongly urge everyone to maintain social distance and follow guidelines so we can get back to doing what we all love to do.”

While the number of new COVID-19 cases spiked recently, the number of hospitalizations in Allegheny County remains low.

Kristy Locklin

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.