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Virginia Beach restauranteurs thankful for eased restrictions on alcohol sales, but still missing bar areas

Governor Ralph Northam will expand alcohol sales to midnight starting Monday.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — On a beautiful day along the Oceanfront, the wait time at the Atlantic on Pacific was about an hour. However, that wasn’t even the best news of the day for general managing partner, Vincent Amato.

“We’re starting to see and starting to feel a little bit more in terms of a weight off to get back to what we once were,” said Amato whose group also oversees Eurasia Café and Wine Bar.

The drinks will flow a little later come next week.

Governor Ralph Northam will expand alcohol sales to midnight starting Monday. The decision loosens the 10 p.m. cutoff imposed on restaurants in November in response to COVID-19. It is one of several measures announced Wednesday to loosen COVID-19 restrictions across Virginia.

“We are finally seeing COVID-19 number falls and vaccinations rise,” said Northam. “That means we can start to consider how to slowly safely ease some of the measures we put into place during the holidays.”

For many spots in Virginia Beach, it’s been a bit of a buzz kill.

“The idea of having to stop service and remove all paid for alcohol at the table at 10 p.m. was a sticking point for a lot of guests,” said Amato.

Restauranteurs are excited to serve alcohol for a few extra hours, but Amato says something big is still missing: people at the bar.

“As soon as we’re able to have those people sitting at our bar seats that’s when we’ll have a sense of normalcy and that’s what we are dreaming about,” he said.

“There is no bartender in the state of Virginia right now. No one is allowed to go to a bar,” said Mike Standing, owner of Waterman’s Surfside Grille. He is referring to no bar seating allowed in bar areas.

Standing applauds Northam for his efforts to keep restaurants open and safe in the pandemic and is thankful for the change, but he wants more communication between the state and industry leaders.

“If we can simply communicate with our state government to help and assist and work with them, we can find better ways to safely create revenue not only for the restaurants but also for bartenders,” he said.  

“This will not be our last pandemic,” said Standing. “So if we are not able to communicate in better ways with our industry experts how are we going to do it in the future?”

Standing suggests using plexiglass to separate bartenders and patrons as he’s seen in other countries, like Costa Rica. He said the lack of bar service not only impacts bartenders but the restaurant’s bottom line.

Amato is thankful for a step back to normal, but he admits he is still waiting to host patrons in his bar area.

“Seeing it empty breaks my heart every single day,” he said.

Northam said the state will look at further steps in the coming months if COVID-19 cases continue to drop and vaccinations rise. But he said it is critical Virginia does this slowly and thoughtfully.