Pueblo’s popular bars and restaurants may be reopened for business, but social distancing requirements are leading restaurant owners to be innovative and push local bar culture outdoors.
Pueblo’s Colorado Taproom and Grill on 106 Colorado Avenue opened its doors for business February 1, just six weeks before government officials closed the state’s restaurants and bars to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“During the pandemic, it gave us the opportunity to kind of take a step back and to reevaluate our menu and our takeout business, of which we didn’t have one,” said Laura Stankiewicz, wife of Colorado Taproom owner Dick Federico. “We really were able to spend some time learning how to do a takeout business and we’ve got a successful little takeout business now.”
Now that bars and restaurants are able to operate at half capacity with social distancing taken into consideration, the Taproom is now working on perfecting another aspect of the newly acquired restaurant; outdoor seating.
Four tables with chairs already sit outside of the building, but Stankiewicz said the Colorado Taproom recently got approved for an expansion of their outdoor dining area. In order to get approved, the Taproom had to fill out online paperwork to be sent to several city departments. While the process may have been extensive, Stankiewicz said city officials were helpful.
“Each one of those departments gets it and they ask for several different things,” Stankiewicz said. “They ask for a drawing. They ask for a plan for how you are going to make sure that people keep alcohol within the boundaries insurance certificates. They ask for all kinds of stuff.”
While the Taproom is unable to use nearby city-owned portions of the sidewalk for seating, an area about as wide along Colorado Avenue serves as the best candidate for the restaurant’s outdoor seating expansion. The Taproom’s choice to utilize Colorado Avenue for seating is also more accommodating for neighboring restaurant, the Pantry.
“The Pantry has their seating on the Abriendo (Avenue) side,” Stankiewicz said. “We don’t want to take away from what they are doing there because we want to support our neighbors and we like the people over at the Pantry. We want them to do good too. They have their outdoor seating on the Abriendo and we are going to do ours on the Colorado Avenue side.”
Some customers at the Taproom have asked to sit outside, but the majority still prefer to sit inside or order the Taproom’s sandwiches, salads and pizzas for carry out. However, Stankiewicz said she expects more customers to sit outside once seating is expanded.
“We have also had people ask about a pet friendly area which we are definitely going to look into; one of the two tables on the end keeping that pet friendly,” Stankiewicz said. “I definitely think that the patio area is going to be a hit, I just think… for us it is going to take another week to kind of get it going.”
Before COVID-19 restrictions, the Senate Bar and Grill on 219 S. Grand Avenue in downtown Pueblo was known for its upbeat atmosphere and indoor attractions. Now with the dance floor, pool table, and dart board unavailable, the bar’s dynamic has shifted according to co-owner Gena Rosales.
“When they first initially told us we could only have 50 patrons and we have 173 capacity, that was rough,” Rosales said. “When they allowed us to go 50 percent, that allowed us a little bit more. Definitely, COVID has hurt our business in that aspect, but at the same token, people coming in, having to be seated; I think it is more of a relaxed atmosphere right now.”
The Senate has offered outdoor seating since the beginning of June. In order to acquire outdoor seating, the process the Senate underwent was a complicated one. Much of the seating area is part of a closed-off turning lane in front of the restaurant. This required the bar to get approved through traffic control to get their barriers approved.
With the presence of another turning lane nearby, the Senate was able to secure barriers around the turning lane and create more area for outdoor tables, chairs and umbrellas. The presence of outdoor seating has led to business picking up at the Senate as many Puebloans look to eat out, but are still hesitant to enter the doors of a restaurant, Rosales said.
“I would have to say (outdoor seating) is a draw,” Rosales said. “It definitely does draw people in and our business has picked up because of that. Seeing patio lights, seeing outdoor tables around us, it draws people in for sure. Especially since we have such great weather… It definitely brings people in.”
Like the Taproom, the Senate has opened the inside of its restaurant too, requiring “non-stop” cleaning and stringent adherence to government guidelines according to Rosales. Aside from masked employees and sanitizing stations at the door, Rosales said she has noticed a definite cultural change inside the restaurant for the time being.
“There’s no congregating at tables,” Rosales said. “When you walk in, you are seated at a table. It’s a little tough because people that have been to our place know that we’re about friends and family… It’s not our rules and regulations. It’s what has been placed on us from the government. We have no choice but to follow that.”
For the City of Pueblo, restaurant revenue was down 34 percent during the month of March, director of finance Charles Hernandez said. In April, revenue increased 4 percent. While the Finance Department is waiting on revenue numbers for May and June, Hernandez said he is encouraged by the number of patrons he sees dining outside the Senate on his drive to work.
“We won’t know until the first of July how May fared out, but it has been vibrant,” Hernandez said. “I am highly encouraged. I monitor the cash coming in daily from the city and it has been very active.”