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Scottsdale bars & covid, drink

 Old Town Scottsdale has been known for its nightclubs and restaurants for years, turning it into a global destination. Scottsdale is widely recognized for its high energy nightlife and young community, but it’s evening entertainment area is now recognized as a hotspot for the coronavirus.

With dozens of bars filling the streets of Old Town, young people have continued flock there, despite the pandemic. Health experts are concerned, and too many young people are ignoring guidelines while bars and clubs try to stay open and safe.

COVID-19 has decimated nightlife in Scottsdale, and bars have had to change and innovate their business models to survive.

The city saw COVID-19 shut all the bars and nightclubs down for months starting in April. When they started to open back up in June, the city saw COVID numbers skyrocket. Maricopa County reported 1,050 coronavirus cases on April 3. Two months later , it reported 10,948 cases, according to azfamily.com.

Beer tray That comes as no surprise to Will Humble, executive director for the Arizona Public Health Association. Humble, with more than three decades of experience in public health including serving as director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, said Scottsdale bars and clubs are among the prime reasons behind the rapid spread of COVID-19.

“The reason I can say that with such conviction is, if you look at Arizona's natural experiment, we had a successful stay-at-home order that ended with the honors system and a free-for-all for the bars, restaurants and nightclubs,” Humble said. “Scottsdale clubs, as you can see on Twitter and YouTube, were allowed to do whatever they wanted with impunity.”

Riot House, one of the more popular bars in Old Town, was charged in June for violating Gov. Doug Ducey’s executive order to control the spread. Many bars followed suit including Bottle Blonde and Casa Amigos, which both had their liquor licenses suspended for weeks and were shut down for not obeying Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.

According to Scottsdale.gov and the police department, “Riot House was charged with failing to enforce their own safety and health policy, required under Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s Executive Orders. The Scottsdale Police Department observed staff and patrons at this establishment not practicing social distancing, not wearing face coverings, and not complying with their plan.”

Humble said there was a sharp uptick back in June when the bars opened. State officials like Gov. Doug Ducey responded to the June outbreak by allowing cities and counties to enforce mask mandates starting on June 17. The following week, Ducey shut down bars and nightclubs across the state and made restaurants adopt a 50% seating capacity policy.

Humble said the main issue is “instead of checking the dumpsters and the walk-ins and the food temperatures for the next four months, they should be 100% COVID mitigation detail. That's the public health crisis. We don't have a food safety crisis right now.”

Humble stated that looking at the current numbers, the 15-to-29 age group is the highest spreader of COVID, often followed closely by the 25-to-64 cohort.

“The virus follows behavior, and the behavior of that age group is poor. In terms of rate, the biggest age group is 15-to-29,” Humble said.

Open for businessAs of last month, more bars and nightclubs are opening back up, and health experts are afraid this will cause another shut down.

“Compliance and enforcement would reduce the chances that we max out on our hospital capacity and have to shut the bars and nightclubs again. I'm certain that the governor does not want to shut the bars and nightclubs again. But his decisions right now are casting the die,” Humble said.

Humble said that with the rapid spread of COVID in Arizona, he predicts another shutdown coming. He said he doesn't expect that many bars and clubs will be open at Christmas.

Arizona reported 4,105 COVID cases on Nov. 17, which is a little behind the highest day of reported cases on July 1, which had 4,753. There have been over Maricopa County has had 180,000 cases total.

Julia Parise, a Scottsdale local and avid bar goer, caught COVID back in June when the nightclubs started to reopen.

“Bars are basically just loud restaurants,” she said. “All require you to remain seated with a limited number of guests, usually six people at most.”

Parise said when bars opened up again in June, most did not follow the social distancing and mask rules. That is when Parise and her friends contracted the virus.

“We were all mildly affected and redeemed our health in just a few weeks. Now that bars do follow social distancing and mask rules, I haven’t heard of a single friend who has gotten sick from going to a bar,” Parise said.

According to Zach Dormae, former bar manager at The Three Wisemen, COVID is going to change the way nightlife does business in Scottsdale.

Socializing  in the pandemic“COVID has unfortunately changed the game,” Dormae said. “Clubs aren't really clubs anymore, they're hybrid. They're a combination of restaurants and nightclubs,” “During the day, they operate as restaurant, and then at night they're more of a club style.”

According to Dormae, more places are going to transition into this hybrid style.

Dormae compares Scottsdale to another entertainment destination, Las Vegas, which has been hit hard by the pandemic.

Two popular Old Town bars, Bottle Blonde and Casa Amigos, had their liquor licenses suspended back in June. Dormae said he thinks the state was trying to make an example out of the two biggest and most powerful clubs in Old Town, because after they got their liquor license suspended, everybody else feared risking their licenses, and more clubs started to follow CDC guidelines.

“Society as a whole is rebellious. With that being said, I think that you can only hold down for so long before people get antsy,” Dormae said. “I live in the heart of Old Town and even on Tuesday nights, I see people going out. A pandemic has not stopped people from partying, and I don’t think it ever will.”

Jackie Contaldo the city’s Downtown specialist said she thinks that with any event altering our ways of living, we see byproducts of those times stick around.

“I definitely think that e-commerce will stay around as a major way to do business. And I think social media, while always popular for brand engagement, has risen to meet the challenges of product promotion and service outreach,” Contaldo said. “I think more consumers are mindful of shopping small and local, and the impact that has on their community.”

With Scottsdale being a tourist destination, Contaldo said, the city saw a decline in tourism and events this year in Old Town, especially in the spring when the city sees its highest volume of visitors and events.

Drink, Scottsdale barDuring the springtime, Scottsdale hosts car auctions, spring training and spring break thanks to the beautiful weather. According to Contaldo, summers are usually a slow time for Scottsdale, and this year was slightly slower.

With the pandemic still ongoing and compounded by limited occupancies in restaurants, Contaldo said, she has seen a decline in visitors compared to the same time last year.

“Although we see that people that do venture out are eager to support our small businesses and restaurant. Several restaurants that didn’t offer delivery or takeout prior to COVID-19 have added those services to their offering. We’ve seen a lot more business partner with each other to co-amplify their products, good or services,” Contaldo said. “I think visitors to the area are learning to do business with the restaurants in new ways, from virtual appointments, to private tours, to outside dining and take-out.”

Scottsdale local and hostess Lauren Lippert can attest to COVID having a severe effect on nightlife. Lippert hosts at a new bar called The Golden Margarita, which is owned by the same management from The Three Wisemen, which closed down in Old Town Scottsdale due to the pandemic.

Lippert said that her management has taken the correct precautions to help stop the spread of COVID, but this has also stopped people from coming in.

“We've had to turn large groups away because they exceed 10 people and aren't willing to split up into different tables,” Lippert said. “Needless to say, it has been tough, but we've managed to keep our customers and staff safe and that's all that matters.”

Lippert said the bar offers employees free testing. During the hiring process, Lippert had to sign a CDC Guidelines waiver that states employees will stay home if they aren’t feeling well and that employees will get tested in order to keep everyone safe.

The nightlife industry in Scottsdale continues to innovate and change, despite the ongoing pandemic. Old Town is still alive, and not because of the high energy nightlife but due to the inventive way’s bars have had to transform and keep their businesses alive.

By McKenna Leavens
Scottsdale Digital Group






















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