Bars adapted, revamped during COVID-19 closure


Headquarters is seeing people come into the bar again.

“It’s going pretty well. People are sitting in the bar now,” a worker answering the phone said. “It’s been pretty steady.”

As the state has been allowing different businesses to slowly reopen to the public, entertainment places like bars, movie theaters and amusement parks remained completely closed.

That changed Friday, June 12, as the state moved into the next stage of reopening. Those places can now be at 50% capacity.

Headquarters’ bar isn’t at that 50% capacity yet. “We’ve not had a lot of walk-ins yet, because it’s still kind of new to everybody,” the worker said. “But our regular customers are stopping in again in the evenings.”

Headquarters, like a lot of bars in the county, also serves food in a dining area. Food is what has saved Ron’s Place during the shutdown, owner Bobby Buechlein said.

“We had a lot of people who called in for delivery or pickup. And there were many new people,” he said. “Our food kept us alive.”

Ron’s Place was already established as delivery and pickup. “We did more of that than dine in, to begin with,” Buechlein said. “What helped us a lot is when we promoted our takeout menu more, that and what people already knew about us.”

Closing the bar did hurt. “My overall sales were still down,” Buechlein said.

While it was closed, Buechlein did some remodeling, including redoing the bathrooms and replacing the carpet with laminate flooring. “This place has a new look,” Buechlein said. “It’s more up to date.”

Reopening to customers has been slow. And Ron’s Place, like everywhere else, still has to practice social distancing.

“People are starting to trickle back in again.” Buechlein said. “But, you have to put the barstools apart 6 feet.”

But people are starting to come back to eat, drink and play games with others, like pool and Golden Tee Golf.

Reopening the bar area doesn’t affect the Gaslight Pizza & Grill as much. “For us it’s eight barstools,” owner John Songer said. “It used to be like 30 bar seats. But last year, we readjusted our whole floor layout.”

That interior design work, which was done in the spring of 2019, shrunk the bar seating and increased the dining space. When the Gaslight had to close in March, like most businesses did, more work was done inside.

Not being able to have diners inside is what hurt the business the most, more than closing the bar area.

“Initially, we lost about 60% of our business,” Songer said. “And then it leveled off at 50%, though we’ve had some weeks that weren’t real good.”

Being able to have customers inside again has helped some. Before June 12, restaurants could be at 50% capacity; that increased to 75% June 12.

“Since we’ve opened the dining room, things have gotten a little better. But there’s really not that many people coming in,” Songer said. “It’s mainly carryout.”

He‘s looking to set up some outdoor seating this week, since Huntingburg is allowing restaurants to do that. And Songer will continue adapting as needed to stay afloat.

“I can adjust things,” he said. “We’ve made things a lot more efficient, and we’re still making some money. So long as we can monitor and maintain everything as it is, we will still be here.”

Snaps in Jasper is not opening its bar seating yet.

“We have all of our [restaurant] seating open,” said bartender Zach Mitchell, who is co-owner of the holding company. “But we’re going to still have the bar roped off because we are fearful of controlling the number of people here.

“We have the back patio open, and 75% of our capacity in the dining area,” he said. “We moved some tables and our big couch upstairs.”

Now that diners can come in again, Snaps has been doing pretty well, Mitchell said.

“Each week, our numbers have been increasing,” he said. “Next week, we’re looking to do Open Mic, and we’ll probably put some barstools out. We’re just following protocol, and getting ready for July.”

July is when all restrictions are due to be lifted by the state.

More on