SAYREVILLE/SOUTH AMBOY, NJ - The local bars, along with small restaurants and businesses, have faced extraordinary challenges having to adapt their operations amidst the pandemic to keep them afloat.
“We’re built to work on 100% capacity, obviously, every business is,” said Kenny Cassidy, co-owner of Tap and Growler Bar & Grill at 363 Main Street in Sayreville. “So, when you cut it down to 25%, you cut off 75% of the revenue. Unfortunately, the bills still come in 100%.”
With that, the customers have also experienced the ongoing impacts, from not being able to sit at the bar for drinks to having to be out of the building by 10 p.m.
“That was like my biggest challenge,” said Teisha Hackett, bar manager at Last Call at 219 Washington Road in Sayreville. “They (customers) are saying, ‘We don’t want to leave yet,’ but you have to, and it feels very odd as a bartender to close a bar at 10 o'clock.”
But as of Friday at 8 a.m., Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order expanded the indoor capacity to 35% and lifted the 10 p.m. curfew, which has given bar owners and managers some semblance of normalcy.
Both towns can now keep their bars open until 2 a.m.
With Valentine’s Day approaching fast, Hector Deffer, manager and executive chef at The Munckee Bar & Grill at 113 South Feltus Street in South Amboy, said he hopes to see more people come out to celebrate the holiday with the social distancing and safety regulations still in place.
“Hopefully with this ban going to 2 o’clock, we might have a little more business at that time because a lot of people don’t like to drink early in the day,” said Anne Kukulski, co-owner of Lagoda’s Saloon at 109 South Broadway in South Amboy. “They would rather go out at 9 o’clock, instead of going home at 9, 10 o’clock.”
In May, bars were allowed to offer takeout and delivery for beverages to their customers as long as alcoholic drinks were in closed and sealed containers.
June brought outdoor dining, September began indoor dining, but in November, bars could only seat guests at tables spread 6 feet apart before 10 p.m.
Deffer said that in the beginning, Munckee Bar struggled with connecting with their customer base strictly online and doing to-go services through food delivery services charging the bar high fees.
Last Call has been incorporating different specials and promotions each week to try to attract customers, such as deals where the fifth beer or shot is free, bucket specials or discounts on select beers, Hackett said.
Tap and Growler added a kitchen shortly before the pandemic hit, which allowed them to serve food in addition to drinks at just the right time, Cassidy said.
Despite each bars’ respective ups and downs, all share one common wish that would further enhance Gov. Murphy’s lifted restrictions: seating at the bar.
“If we can sit at the bar, we could separate people that come in together just like we do with tables,” Cassidy said.
“I think it would boost our business more if we could sit at the bar,” Kukulski said. “Everybody’s getting sick and tired of sitting at tables and wearing masks. Hopefully, one day soon, we will be able to do that.”
Hackett and Deffer said that increasing capacity to 50% would also help, because a 10% increase does not expand capacity much for small indoor spaces.
“I think a certain amount of people will seem confident, but another amount of people are still very fearful of coming indoors,” Cassidy said. “I saw better business outdoors because I feel people were more comfortable outdoors, which I understand. Indoors, a lot of people are still concerned, and I understand their concerns.”