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  • Jordan D. Smith

Portland Watering Holes Affected by Bar Shutdown

In downtown Portland, two drinking establishments are next-door neighbors. Hot Shots Tavern and The Port share the same block, but very different fates under renewed state restrictions on bars in response to the coronavirus pandemic. While bars and restaurants were allowed to reopen June 8th, a high profile outbreak at Harper’s Restaurant and Brew Pub in East Lansing brought a quick reversal on some of those eased restrictions.

As of this writing, the number of cases of COVID-19 in patrons of the pub or their contacts approaches 200. In enacting renewed restriction on bars, state and county health officials cited the difficulty of social distancing and mask-wearing in a bar setting where big crowds, up close socialization, and drinking is the name of the game. In response, Governor Whitmer ordered tightened restrictions on bars and pubs with on premises retail liquor licenses which derive more than 70% of their income from alcohol. Under the tightened restrictions such establishments can only serve drinks outdoors until further notice.

When The Port reopened in June they reduced their seating to 50% by removing extra tables and chairs and dramatically increased their cleaning regime, according to owner Merry Hass. Hass tells the Beacon that when the tightened restrictions went into effect for drinking establishments they were unaffected due to the nature of their license as an, “ wine tasting room,” with, “ extended retail sales license.” While their business has been able to adapt, Hass says that they have actually seen a big increase in interest in having private events at the wine tasting room.

“Prior to COVID, our private event business was seeing an increase. In these times, we have noticed a further increase in the request for private events. To strike this balance between those that love to have a place to spontaneously come relax and those that like to plan for a gathering, we have adjusted our regular hours to allow for both,” said Hass. They have also opened Tuesday nights to serve those attending the Downtown Park Parties hosted in Scout Park by the Portland Mainstreet Program. As they adjust their hours of operation to adapt to ongoing circumstances, you can see their up to date hours and events by following The Port on their Facebook page.

Nextdoor, Hot Shots Tavern has not been so lucky. While they have served food in the past, according to a statement from owner Carol Abood on their Facebook page, the bar’s cook did not return when they reopened along with other restaurants on June 8th. As a result, the establishment’s sole income has been from serving alcohol. Since the business does not have any outdoor seating areas they had to shut down the frist week of July. While they considered putting in a few tables in the bars back parking area, she said the limited space combined with hot summer temperatures on the blacktop was anticipated to make doing so not worth the time and effort to get special permission from the Michigan Liquor Control Commission to do so.

According to Abood, “I wish I could tell you I knew when we'd be reopened...I can honestly say that I could not live with myself if we became East Lansing Harper's & contributed to people's sickness & or even 1 death. I honestly do not want Hot Shots to become Ionia Counties "hotspot” (pun intended). Please stay safe.” To stay up to date with the plans Hot Shots has upon restrictions being lifted, you can follow their Facebook page for more information.

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