The once-booming brewery scene in Everett – some of the hardest hit businesses in the City – are slowly gathering their former momentum this week since Gov. Charlie Baker lifted COVID-19 restrictions a week ago and bar service started again on Monday.
Breweries like Night Shift and Bone Up in the Fermentation District said this week that the last 15 months were a testament to being flexible, to figuring out how to grow their business in new ways, and relying on the solid support of the community. Now, though they said it seems weird, they are transitioning back to the normal tap room settings that once were the highlight of after-work gatherings in the area.
Night Shift Tap Room General Manager Mel Galindo said it has been a slow return to normal for them, with Memorial Day weekend’s bad weather tempering crowds and people returning in larger numbers every day.
For Galindo, the changes to the tap room were dictated by her employees – what they were comfortable with and not comfortable with.
“At our Everett taproom we had Plexiglas barriers at all our tables and around the bar,” she said. “In terms of deciding how much came down and what came down, I let that decision rest with those working in the tap room because they’ll be operating under these conditions. We wanted to make sure we were doing what they were comfortable with. We took a vote and kept it anonymous to find out what conditions felt comfortable. Some 80 percent wanted to take all the Plexi down and were ready for that. That made it easy and especially easy to manage versus rolling out a new operational model…We have been operating with modified table service, which is a complete change from how we’ve operated in Everett since opening.
“That was definitely a huge learning curve last year trying to get people accustomed to being behind a bar to learn serving experience,” she continued. “Many were eager to get back to bar service.”
At Bone Up Brewery, they did not have indoor service during COVID-19, but had a huge, successful outdoor beer garden last summer and fall that they plan to keep going this year as well. Over the winter, they survived on take-out beer orders and a few brave souls who donned winter coats and blankets to drink beer in the snow on their patio.
Co-Owner Liz Kiraly said having the restrictions lifted was a surprise, and on Monday they were excited to welcome back bar service too.
“We were very happy to bring back the beer garden this year because before we didn’t have a lot of outdoor seating and that was popular last year,” she said. “We definitely didn’t think they would re-open as quickly as they did. I thought we’d be wearing masks and relying on outdoor seating all summer…People are excited to come back. It’s nice to see people’s smiles on their faces again. At first it was a bit jarring to see people in here without masks, but without the mandate, we felt safe…We’re definitely looking forward to seeing everyone again this summer and we’ll see what the fall brings.”
Kiraly, who with husband Jared build Bone Up literally by hand, said there isn’t a word to describe how difficult the last 15 months were, particularly with the threat of losing everything they had worked so hard to build over the last several years.
“I don’t know if there’s a word to describe how that felt,” she said. “We’re obviously very relieved now and proud of our staff for being flexible. I’m inspired with how flexible we ended up being with the business. COVID opened up thing we had to do that we didn’t think we would ever do.”
One example is they began canning and distributing their beer on the fly – going from a draft-only operation to having a canning operation on site and a network of places to delivery to. That was a challenge that they never though they would get to, but coming out of COVID, they’ve done it.
“Now I think that, ok, we’ve survived COVID-19 and we’re on the other side – so what else can we do?” she said.
License Board Chair Phil Antonelli had his Board transformed into a COVID-19 watchdog over the last 15 months, as the Board was in charge of fielding and investigating complaints of establishments violating the state restrictions. Meanwhile, they were also in charge of implementing earlier closing times as a result of COVID-19. It was something they had no experience with beforehand, as they were mostly a quasi-judicial Board that debated and investigated licenses and complaints.
He said he was happy to see the City’s bars, restaurants and establishments re-open fully and try to move again to prosperity – noting that one COVID change that will likely remain is the expanded outdoor dining options that became a fun, but necessary, component of the industry.
“The Mayor is in full support of outdoor dining and wants to make sure the businesses prosper,” Antonelli said. “I think in the City of Everett we did a good job during COVID-19 to allow business and establishments to do take-out and I think we had a good handle on everything going on. Moving forward, these bars and establishments are like everything else – COVID-19 is gone away but there will have to be some precautions kept. Now, though, we have allowed bars and establishments to open back up. Personally, I think as much as we can get people to dine outside will be a good thing. It will prevent people from crowding into one place, and that’s a positive thing.”
At Night Shift, they have also kept their expanded outdoor seating, and have found that many people do enjoy drinking outside. While they always had ample space outside, during COVID they were allowed to expand the outdoor area into their parking lot. Prior to COVID, they could only do that for special events with a license, but now they plan to keep it.
“What can you say? People like to drink outside in the summer,” she said. “We’ve always had the outdoor area and we were permitted to use all of it so people could spread out and relax…We were able to re-open that space. We figured we might as well use that space…Our patio would just get so crowded at times with parties of five around one table and nowhere to put a drink. That’s when you bump into each other and break glasses. Expanding out just gave everyone more space with their friends or pets.”
Night Shift, once known for a robust schedule of live events and music, said they are slowly bringing those things back, but they aren’t rushing it. Right now, they plan to do a Father’s Day event, and if it goes well, there could be more to come.
“More than anything else right now, people are excited about celebrating people and being around each other again and being free of COVID,” she said.