Kemp keeps bars, nightclubs closed through May

Gov. Brian Kemp ordered bars, nightclubs and live performance venues to remain closed for nearly three more weeks, a move that LGBTQ business owners said they understand, even as they are anxious to reopen.

Kemp’s order keeping nightlife venues closed – even after allowing restaurants to open and lifting the state’s shelter-in-place restrictions last month – came Tuesday. That was a day before his order would have expired. Now, bars, clubs and live performance venues will stay shuttered until May 31 – and possibly longer if Kemp (top photo) decides to extend his order again.

“I know this extension is difficult for many Georgia business owners and communities that have music venues,” Kemp said Tuesday. “However, we believe that waiting a little bit longer will enhance health outcomes and give folks the opportunity to prepare for safe reopening in the near future.”

For Keith Young, a veteran LGBTQ nightlife promoter, the coronavirus pandemic delayed the launch of Future Atlanta. He’s co-owner of the new nightclub in Underground Atlanta, but hasn’t been able to host a grand opening that was initially scheduled for early April. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms ordered nightlife venues and other businesses to close on March 19. Kemp’s order pushes back Young's plans for at least a few more weeks.

“Like many industry owners and as a patron alike, I am on the fence,” Young said. “Although I would like to get back to business, I think the extra two weeks will allow the government on all levels to, hopefully, further stabilize living and working conditions. As one of the first to stop doing business when this all started, I am anxious to get back to it.”

Kemp said his administration will continue to monitor data about the coronavirus pandemic – including the number of new cases, expanded testing and the use of critical care beds in hospitals – before deciding whether to allow nightlife businesses to reopen on June 1. 

“Many have warned of a second wave and asked if we are willing to change course if conditions decline. Let me be clear: We will continue to track the numbers,” Kemp said. “We will take whatever action is necessary to protect the lives and the livelihoods of all Georgians.”

Kemp allowed a host of businesses – including gyms and hair salons – to reopen on April 24. Restaurants were allowed to reopen portions of their dining rooms on April 27. The moves were harshly criticized amid concerns that reopening businesses too soon would fuel a new wave of COVID-19 infections. 

On Tuesday, Kemp further eased restrictions on restaurants and allowed them to have more patrons and tables to seat up to 10 people instead of six. He also revised guidelines for gyms to “allow for enhanced flexibility.”

“Throughout this pandemic, our restaurant owners and their employees have done a remarkable job in keeping local families fed. These hard-working Georgians have followed the rules, doing the right thing even when quite honestly it wasn’t very easy to do so,” Kemp said.

“In our new executive order, we are taking another step forward, empowering restaurants to expand the operations safely, only if they choose,” he added.

'It's not going to be turnt up nightclub'

Jennifer Maguire, co-owner of lesbian bar My Sister’s Room, said they plan to ease into reopening on June 1. The business is licensed as a restaurant, like some other LGBTQ nightspots, and could have opened to provide food through takeout and delivery. Maguire said they’ve reorganized the two bars, added picnic tables and hand-washing areas to the outdoor area and purchased laser temperature readers.

“We’ve already been doing our preparation. Our goal is June 1. We have to put the safety of our staff and customers first,” Maguire said. 

But Maguire warned that MSR’s reopening will be cautious and deliberate.

“We have been doing a lot of stuff in preparation. It’s not going to be turnt up nightclub when we open,” she said.

Alan Collins, general manager of Heretic (second photo), applauded Kemp for pushing back the reopening of nightlife venues. He said reopening June 1 would be earlier than he expected.

“From the start, our number one priority has always been keeping our customers and employees safe, and I have no intention of changing that,” Collins said. “Even though we’ve been closed for over two months now, we’ve been very busy. I can’t wait to re-open the doors and show off everything we’ve done.”

Kemp’s office has issued lengthy lists of rules for businesses that reopen. He has signed off on guidelines for safety measures, interactions with customers, and cleaning protocols. Collins said the governor should issue guidelines for nightlife venues in advance so they have time to implement them and train staff.

“I do wish we could see the guidelines we’ll need to follow when we do reopen, so we can get a head start on making sure we’re in compliance,” he said.

Richard Ramey, the owner of Atlanta Eagle, said another delay in reopening adds to the hardships “during these difficult times.” But he understood Kemp’s actions.

“We want what is best for our community. Everyone stay safe and healthy and love like you have never loved before. We will be back. The Atlanta Eagle will fly again real soon,” Ramey said.

Read more coverage of how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting LGBTQ Atlanta.

Top photo by Patrick Saunders