On this episode of the “VinePair Podcast,” hosts Adam Teeter, Joanna Sciarrino, and Zach Geballe return to the subject of Covid’s impact on the industry and its many ongoing challenges.
Now that vaccine and mask mandates are being repealed across the country, how will this impact the restaurant and bar industry? Should establishments continue to enforce these mandates? And what are these spaces doing to ensure their staff and patrons stay safe amid anti-vaccine protests? Tune in to learn more.
Or Check Out the Conversation Here
Adam Teeter: From VinePair’s New York City headquarters, I’m Adam Teeter.
Joanna Sciarrino: And I’m Joanna Sciarrino.
Zach Geballe: In Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.
A: And this is the “VinePair Podcast.” Joanna, we just got back. What have you been drinking? What’s going on?
J: I haven’t really had much to drink since Charleston.
A: Still pretty dry?
J: Yeah, just resetting a bit. But we did have a really wonderful time at Stems & Skins with Matt Tunstall there.
A: Best wine bar in America.
J: It was a really wonderful experience, totally. I had a really great bottle of Clivi Galea Bianco from 2001. I think that was one of the best wines I’ve ever had. It was really, really amazing.
Z: I do, it’s a special love of mine. Old white wine in general, especially northern Italian whites. It’s delightful stuff. But it’s true, that’s not something you see kicking around a lot of wine lists anywhere these days.
A: It was cool, Matt pulled it out from the back and was like, “We have a surprise.”
Z: He didn’t pull that out when I was there.
A: It’s because Joanna was there.
J: No, absolutely not.
A: He was like, “What up, Joanna?”.
Z: Now you get the good wine.
A: Yeah, exactly. Nothing else, Joanna?
J: I thought this was curious for us to talk about. We had a few drinks that were served up in coupes, but with a big rock in them.
A: I hated that sh*t.
J: I find it so peculiar.
A: It was a weird trend. I haven’t really seen that much in New York, although Tim acted like you can find that at cocktail bars here, too. Zach, it was a normal coupe glass. And then they would serve it up, but then on a rock. There was a huge rock inside the coupe, and there were a few different cocktail bars that did. It wasn’t just one cocktail bar. I think three different cocktail bars we were at that did this, and I was like, “What is this?” It’s because it’s South Carolina and it’s warm, and they’re worried about the drink getting warm? I don’t know. I don’t think that’s it.
Z: I can’t understand it. How do you not get smacked in the face by the rock?
J: You do.
A: No, you did.
Z: That sounds like an unpleasant drinking experience.
A: It was weird, and it sloshes around in the glass. It was very strange. What about you, Zach?
Z: Well, I haven’t had anything that bizarre recently. I’m still processing this. I can’t imagine it. If any of you run cocktail bars that do this, write to us at [email protected] and explain yourselves. I’m very curious to hear the justification.
J: Tell us why.
Z: There are a couple of things that I’ve had recently that I really enjoyed. I had a schwarzbier, which is like a black pilsner, it’s a Germanic-style beer. I actually had two recently from a local brewery, one that was also infused with coffee, and that was friggin delicious. It’s very funny, my wife and I were at the brewery and she got a hazelnut cream stout and I got this coffee pilsner. We were like, maybe the best one would be a 50-50 mix of these two beers. It’d be like a hazelnut latte beer. We did not actually try that; we just speculated. But both the classic version and the coffee-infused version were really good. On the Friday episode, we talked about Guinness, and I’m a big fan of dark beers that aren’t super heavy. I like a good stout or porter from time to time or an imperial winter ale. But there’s something cool about the deep, malty flavors you get with a dark beer, but without the 7 percent alcohol and sweetness that sometimes comes through in a lot of the styles. There are obviously lots of German styles that do employ dark malts that can be really, really good. The only other thing that I had recently that I thought was particularly tasty was something that I think you guys are familiar with. I got some bottles from Hirsch Vineyards. I know you guys got to try them. So I had to beseech the folks there, too. I feel left out; the entire VinePair team, except me, is going to try these wines. I had the Raschen Ridge Pinot Noir 2019. It’s a really beautiful wine, that whole region in general is. I’ll be honest, I’m hit or miss on California Pinot Noir writ large. Although I will also freely admit that I haven’t tried enough from some of the more southerly appellations that are really interesting, like Santa Barbara and whatnot. But the region is really intriguing to me because you have this weird mix of a lot of sun, because it’s California, but it’s so cool and there’s so much ocean influence that it’s not the big, ripe strawberry notes that I find in a lot of California Pinot Noir. That was really tasty as well. I have a few more bottles to taste over the next few days, weeks, months, whatever. I’m in a good mood because the baseball lockout ended. You guys don’t care, but I care.
J: Oh, so we’re launching on the 31st?
Z: April 7, so a week late.
A: Baseball is so boring. I think we’ve discussed this.
Z: We have, many times.
A: It’s just not for me.
J: OK, so what have you been drinking, Adam?
A: I, too, haven’t had a lot since Charleston. But I did have a really delicious beer at Charleston from Sycamore Brewing, which was really great. It was their Slurricane, which was pretty good. I had a very hazy IPA, which I enjoyed at one of the events we did, the hip-hop party. That was a lot of fun. I also had some good cocktails. I agree with you, there were a lot of weird cocktails. We went to this one place where everything was in plastic cups, tumblers. I get that they had a pool there, at the cocktail bar.
J: Yeah, we were at a pool bar.
A: But it was weird, because they weren’t doing pool cocktails. They were doing Old Fashioned and other classic cocktails. That was quite strange, I can’t deny that. But then the other thing was, and this never happened to me before but it happened twice in Charleston. At two different restaurants — neither were Stems & Skins — the wrong wine was brought to us from what we ordered. At one restaurant, we had ordered this specific Chablis, I even pointed to it on the list. Instead, they brought a separate Chablis; they already opened it.
J: Off the list.
A: Yeah, it wasn’t even on their list. It was interesting. They ate the bottle. They were like, “You guys keep it. We feel bad. We’re going to get another bottle of Chablis.” That is cool. But then at this second restaurant on the last night, they brought the wrong bottle twice. After they brought the second wrong bottle, I honestly was just like, “I’ll just take that.” I ordered a Fleurie Gamay, it was very clear. I said the producer’s name. I said “Fleurie Gamay,” I pointed to the list. The first time, I don’t think they even brought out a Gamay. It was a Pinot Noir or something from South America. Then the second time, they brought out a Gamay, but it was a Gamay from California. I think at that point, we were just like, “f*ck it.” It’s the wrong bottle, but I don’t even think you know how to find the right bottle. I didn’t say that. But it was actually really amazing. It’s called Amavi 2020 Gamay Noir Santa Barbara County. And it was delicious.
J: Adam is showing me the picture of the label.
A: I took a picture of it because it was really delicious and I’d never heard of it.
Z: It must have been, if it actually got you to take a picture of the label.
A: I’d never heard of the producer and it was one of these happy accidents. Man, I’m glad that I let you bring the wrong thing a second time. And then I just said, “Fine, we’ll take this.” When I looked at the list, it was also half the price of the bottle I ordered, so sweet. But it was really delicious. It was a very nice happy accident. And that’s about it. I’m off on Sunday to Napa and Sonoma with Keith to record a bunch of “Wine 101” stuff. I’m sure I will come back when I record with you all again and talk a lot about my Napa and Sonoma escapades. But that is not what we are discussing today. Instead, we’re taking a little return to Covid. We’ve all been discussing this topic internally, both in editorial news here as well as in our Slack channels. Zach, you don’t join the editorial meetings because you live in Seattle and we do that in person. There are a lot of people who are now saying that Covid is over. There’s a feeling in a lot of the country. What that is causing to happen is, a lot of people are rolling back mask mandates and vaccine mandates. Here in New York City, there has been a massive rollback of them. The mayor announced a few days ago that they will no longer require masks inside and vaccine checks at restaurants. But a lot of restaurants, especially the places that we frequent, are saying, “We’re still going to check vaccines.” It’s so important to them. Something happened last night at one of those restaurants, Dame in the West Village, who has decided to still check vaccines. We’re recording this on Thursday, it happened on a Wednesday night in NYC, and you’re going to listen to it on a Monday. Basically, a crew of about 100 people showed up.
*J: I think it was about 30. It’s not that big of a restaurant.
A: Sorry, 30 people showed up demanding to be seated without showing their vaccines and without wearing masks. They were holding a protest that the restaurant was still checking vaccines. They proceeded to sit down at a table, harass diners, all this kind of stuff. Because they’re basically saying, “Covid’s over, this is akin to Nazi Germany when they made people wear stars,” and all this crazy sh*t.
J: You can’t refuse our business, basically.
A: My feeling is this is going to get worse because. Prior to all of this, the restaurants had cover, because it was a law. They were able to say, “Look, we’re checking, but everyone has to check.” But now, there are restaurants that are choosing not to check anymore. The restaurants that are choosing to check, I think, are going to get harassed. I’m curious what we all think about this current state of Covid and what that means for the restaurant and bar industry.
Z: I’m really fascinated by this. You’re probably right in that we’re going to see some absolutely horrific behavior. That’s been the story throughout this entire period of time. Some people are choosing to take out frustrations, whether real or imagined around Covid and around restrictions, on people who have no agency. Between when we’re recording this and when it will go live, mask and vaccine mandates are being rolled back in individual restaurants, here in Seattle as well. So when you all are hearing this, things will have changed. As you said, without the cover of these laws and the rules, we’re just following those things. When an establishment is now choosing on their own to say, “Hey, we want to keep these things in place,” on the one hand, I think you are right. You’re going to see some pushback on that, protest on that, people behaving poorly. I’m curious if the flip side is that there are lots of places where some businesses will be glad to not have to deal with any of that. They won’t be requiring masks. Whatever their personal beliefs around Covid are, it may just be that they and their staff are tired of having to have this extra confrontational interaction with guests. If you’re in a bar where everyone who works there is vaccinated, boosted, and maybe has had Covid, etc., maybe you feel like the risk isn’t very high and it’s worth it for us to get back to some semblance of normalcy. I wonder if it will be good to say, “Hey look, you may be annoyed that we are checking vaccine status here and we are asking you to still wear a mask. But the restaurant next door is happy to have your business, go there.” It’s not the kind of thing that you saw previously, where if you were in NYC, you had to follow the rules or you couldn’t go out to eat. Again, I think that was the right move. I think those mandates and vaccination requirements were good, and I’m not 100 percent convinced that eliminating them now is the right move. But I understand why it’s happening. These are the rules here in the same way that some restaurants have dress codes. People don’t generally show up in jeans and T-shirts and protest that. Now, obviously, this is a lot more fraught than that would be. There may be something like, “Hey, these are the rules, and we understand them and we have options in a way that we didn’t a month ago.”
J: That’s what I find the most remarkable about this situation. It’s like, go to another restaurant. Why do you have to go in and protest this one place when there are plenty of others. And there are plenty of others that are not requiring it now, they have made that decision based on the rollbacks. Go to those restaurants. I get that it’s unfortunate for you if you’d like to go to Dame and now you’re not allowed. But if you want to go there, then show your vaccine or wear a mask, it’s really not that hard, especially because we’re coming off of a period where that was required. I don’t know. I just find that situation so remarkable and how it escalated. The restaurant said that they were receiving a number of one-star Yelp reviews, which is a whole other thing that a restaurant and a business has to deal with. But then to have people come in and actually storm your restaurant is just beyond; there are so many other places you could go to.
A: I agree. I don’t want to go to a restaurant right now where people still aren’t vaccinated. Although when I think about our adventures in Charleston, no one checked anywhere. In the entire city, no one’s checking it. It’s done. As much as I respect these restaurants for doing this, it is a lot harder when the government is not providing you support. There are always going to be people who are itching for a fight or who are looking for some sort of angle to prove that you’re a hypocrite. I do think that it’s going to be hard for these restaurants, and I think a lot of them are prepared for that. But if they’re going to do it, they have to recognize that there will be this blowback. There are going to be people that say, “How dare you, blah blah blah.” The thing that makes me nervous is, I worry for the staff. If the owner is going to be there and they are going to support the staff, or they’re going to have someone there to protect the staff, then I 100 percent support it. I want to support those restaurants, I want to know who those restaurants are. If it’s an owner that’s not there, but they’re still making this decision anyways and you having staff getting berated and harassed and potentially accosted, that is really troubling. I don’t know what you would do as an owner or how you protect them from that as well. That is also a really, really dangerous position to put them in.
J: Luckily the next door neighbors of Dame is Carbone, and they were willing to give them the services of their bodyguard for the evening. Which is great, but that’s an expense that this restaurant doesn’t have to take on.
A: It’s such a sh*tty situation to be in. Because again, I think we’re probably removing a lot of these restrictions too early and it’s screwing a lot of the restaurants. You have the question of, well how long should the restrictions be? Even The New York Times is reporting on this. We shouldn’t have ripped the whole Band-Aid off. It should have been like, maybe we try some no masks in public, but you still can’t eat indoors without a vaccine. I don’t want to go to the gym with people who aren’t vaccinated, I don’t want to be in movie theaters with people who aren’t vaccinated. It is a really tricky situation that I don’t know how people are going to deal with. The one thing I would hope is that a lot of these restaurants will keep their outdoor dining shelter so that if people still are uncomfortable and want to support the restaurants, they can still choose to sit outside. Prior to Omicron, Dame said publicly that they wanted you to eat inside because they wanted you to have that experience. As a whole thing, maybe we should just keep all the outdoor dining structures open as well, so that everyone can try to feel as comfortable as possible in this transition period.
Z: One of the big unknowns is, are we removing restrictions too soon? I agree that keeping some of these things in place, like vaccine mandates and things like that, probably isn’t a huge burden, although I certainly understand why there’s a push from a variety of different angles to lift those restrictions. There’s also this question of what happens if there’s a new variant or if it gets bad again. We don’t know at this moment, on March 10, 2022, what the next three or six months are going to look like. Maybe it is meaningfully different. Maybe we are past the point where Covid is something that is acute and an epidemic, and is more endemic, as it has been talked about by many people much smarter than me. Who knows? That could be true. It could be the case that we’re at a point where it’s good to be vaccinated, maybe you have to get a booster shot every so often, but it’s not an acute situation the way it has been the last two years. Regardless of whatever the state of Covid is and whatever it will be in the future, there is something to what you’ve both been saying that I think is important here. This is one tip of a bigger iceberg of the way in which so many different elements of the response to Covid have left bars and restaurants and many other businesses really out on a limb by themselves with very little support. That includes not providing relief and funding early in the pandemic, doing so in a scattershot, haphazard manner. Not continuing to do so, even though many challenges that restaurants and bars are facing and have faced are not gone and remain in place, even as some of the elements of pre-Covid normalcy return. All of that has been shoddy, depending on where you are, in keeping with broader themes about how the country, and maybe the world as a whole, have handled this challenge. So there’s that element of it. There’s also this other element. I would be curious to hear your guys’ thoughts on this. I don’t know that any restaurant or any bar knows with great certainty what their clientele wants. Do the two of you plan to continue to make an effort? Are a restaurant’s policies towards masks and vaccine mandates going to meaningfully impact where you choose to eat and drink?
A: Honestly? In New York, no. I mean, everyone’s vaccinated. That’s also why it’s really hard, because there’s such a level of people that are vaccinated now. I guess this is what I’m struggling with: There’s a very large level of people who are vaccinated. I think it’s over 75 or 80 percent of adults that are vaccinated.
J: Both doses, yeah.
A: A lot also have the booster. I’m going to be a hypocrite if I tell you yes, because I just went out in Charleston where they didn’t check at all. And I’m about to go to California, and I don’t think they’re checking at all the places in Sonoma and Napa. I really don’t. Over the summer, they weren’t. I don’t want to be a hypocrite and say yes right now. But in New York, if they’re not checking, I won’t go. That’s where I have this struggle; if I’m willing to still go, then should we be checking at all, because are we putting the staff in harm’s way? But if the staff feel very strongly that they’re being put in harm’s way in the reverse, then I don’t know, man. I really don’t have an answer.
J: We’ve talked about this before, Adam, but the people who are not vaccinated are the ones who are at the greatest risk. As long as we’re vaccinated and boosted as patrons of restaurants and many others are, then it shouldn’t be an issue. We can mask if we want and show anybody our vax cards if we want, but it doesn’t really make much of a difference.
A: Zach, I don’t have any kids under five. You do.
Z: I have two of them, in fact.
A: I understand that it sucks that those kids don’t have the vaccine yet. But in some of these markets, the people are still going out. I know parents that are still choosing not to go out, and that sucks that for them Covid’s not over yet. But it’s also tricky. Everyone’s going to be in a different stage. We’re all not going to come out of the pandemic at the same time.
Z: I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret, which is even without Covid, going out to eat with your kids is not fun.
A: Exactly. We know this.
Z: So I might not have been doing it anyhow.
A: Do you know what I mean? I think there’s a lot of parents who don’t want to go out to eat in unvaccinated spaces and then risk bringing Omicron home or something. But as we saw with Omicron, people got Omicron even when they were vaccinated. It’s just such a tricky situation. The thing that no one’s talking about is the risk the staff is being put in. Again, if you work on the floor and you are not an owner and your owner’s made this decision, we would love to hear from you. We don’t currently work on the floor; we hear from certain people. I’d love to know, does this make you feel safer? Does it make you feel less safe because you’re worried about the encounter? I think there’s a lot of people in this country who are very angry. Those kinds of people scare me. The fact that that happened at Dame last night is really scary. Thirty people who didn’t even peacefully protest outside, like they should have. They stormed the restaurant. They berated customers. They berated staff. If that happens more and more, that’s not going to be a good thing.
J: Not good for anyone.
A: It’s going to be really scary to be a member of the staff. That’s where I struggle with all of this at this point.
Z: I was thinking about this from the perspective of the safety of people working in restaurants and bars, mostly in the context of exposure to Covid and the ways in which that has been, more or less, a priority for venues. Whether we see more of this going forward is, again, a little bit hard to know. I think there could be an element where you see a few of these things pop up. Obviously, that doesn’t mean that they can’t be scary and they can’t be really awful in a given situation. I’m a little bit dubious of the notion that there are hundreds of thousands of people around the country who are going to get into this. In a week or two, I would imagine that a good chunk of New York — even Manhattan or Seattle restaurants — are going to be like, “Yeah, great, come on in.” We don’t want to do this, we have not ever wanted to do this. We’ve sometimes seen, of course, the absolute importance of it. I assure you, no one I’ve talked to in the restaurant industry likes checking vaccine status, likes enforcing mask mandates. Very few people do. I think some of this may be people wanting attention in the way that people always want attention. Shi*tty, grandstanding behavior does get a certain kind of reward — at least in publicity, attention, infamy, or whatever. Where it becomes interesting to me to think about is, you’re an operator and you decide, “Hey, you know what? We want to keep enforcing a vaccine mandate because we don’t feel like things are safe yet. We’re a restaurant that does bring in a lot of families. We don’t want those people to stop coming in, because it’s a big part of our business. We don’t want them to not bring their kids and we want them to feel comfortable,” or whatever the explanation is for continuing to maintain these rules. If you keep going after the point where it is legally mandated, how do you step back from that? How do you unwind that? Because that’s one of the big questions that I’m not even sure of for myself. I’m asking this, not as someone who operates a business, but as a potential customer. At what point do we think that these things persist for months? Years? I don’t know. Do you think it’s weeks? How long does Dame or whomever say, “Hey, these are our rules. Are these our permanent rules? I don’t know.”
J: More CDC guidance, maybe? Is there anything else?
A: That’s where a lot of people are struggling. At which point? Because again, it’s a government law that you cannot drink if you are not 21. Everyone understands that checking an ID has to happen. You might be pissed when your fake gets taken, but everyone understands that you’re not allowed to drink in this country unless you’re 21. I guess it comes back to, is it just about the staff? And it should just be about the staff, when the staff is comfortable. It’s if the staff is comfortable to be serving and dealing with people without knowing their vaccination status, because that’s what I want to be clear about. It’s not saying that they’re all unvaccinated. In certain cities, the majority probably are vaccinated because you look at the percentage numbers. But it’s without knowing the status. If they are comfortable because they are also fully vaccinated, that’s when it’s going to be time. No one can determine that, except the staff of the restaurants.
Z: There’s another component which is, we are hitting this period of time depending on where you are in the country. You guys were just in Charleston where it is already turning from spring into summer. It’s starting to slowly warm up here in Seattle. You mentioned it before, Adam, the fate of these outdoor dining structures and whether they will remain semi-permanent or permanent, even when these restrictions are gone or at least can be gone. We’re going to have a season of some people being more comfortable dining outside, especially if these restrictions are lifted and individual restaurants choose not to continue to enforce them if they don’t want to. But we are going to hit fall. We are going to hit winter again. The real question to me is, we’re going to put a pin in this and come back in October of 2022 or something and say, “What does it look like out there?” Did we have a really chill summer, is Covid now much less front-of-mind? You might get Covid, but it’s finally getting to a point where it isn’t all that different from getting the flu. Yes, it’s no fun. Maybe you need to stay home. You need to not spread it to a bunch of other people. But if you’re fully vaccinated and boosted and all that, it’s not a huge deal. And if that is the case, then I think you will start to see these mandates disappear, if these places have not already done so. Again, like I said, this can all come back quickly. That element that you mentioned before of everyone being used to having their ID checked, I don’t know what people’s willingness to return to mandates will be at a governmental level. But it’s not out of the question that these things come back, if Covid comes back in a more dominant fashion. We don’t know. We just don’t.
J: I think people will be unwilling.
Z: Yeah, that’s when the protests will get bad. I’m just going to say that.
A: Well, this has been great as always.
J: Let us know what you think.
A: Please, especially if you work on the floor in any capacity — you work in the kitchen, you listen to us, or you’re behind the bar — please email [email protected]. We’d love to hear what you think about all of this. I’ll talk to you both Friday.
J: Talk to you Friday.
Z: Sounds great.
Thanks so much for listening to the “VinePair Podcast.” If you love this show as much as we love making it, please leave us a rating or review on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever it is you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show.
Now for the credits. VinePair is produced and recorded in New York City and Seattle, Washington, by myself and Zach Geballe, who does all the editing and loves to get the credit. Also, I would love to give a special shout-out to my VinePair co-founder, Josh Malin, for helping make all of this possible, and also to Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director, who is additionally a producer on the show. I also want to, of course, thank every other member of the VinePair team, who are instrumental in all of the ideas that go into making the show every week. Thanks so much for listening, and we’ll see you again.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.