by Dorothy Puch Lillig

With restrictions, the Spring Branch District’s bars and taprooms can open this Memorial Day Weekend and, once again, owners and managers are having to adjust their operations to keep their customers happy and healthy.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Monday said bars, brewery taprooms, and wine tasting rooms, which have remained closed since mid-March, can reopen with 25 percent indoor capacities and full outdoor/patio capacities, while still maintaining social distancing requirements.

Jennifer Edwards Mathis of 4J Brewing Company in the Spring Branch District said 4J will encourage customers to stay outside on the large patio.

“We will move tables farther apart and try to limit who is inside and at the bar. We will continue to do beer to-go if customers don’t want to stay,” Mathis said.

The Branch, which has been open for to-go sales and feeding first responders throughout the pandemic, is planning a 3rd anniversary circus-themed celebration on Saturday at the bar and restaurant at 7710 Long Point Rd.

Hugh O’Connors, at the MarqE Entertainment Center, is re-opening its doors as of Friday at 4 p.m. This weekend, only the bar will be open and the kitchen will re-open next week, according to the bar’s social media pages.

Cobble & Spoke will also be open but will be keeping shorter hours of 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. for now. The craft beer bar at 1900 Blalock Rd. also said it would allow a maximum of 21 people inside and require social distancing. The bar’s outdoor area will be open and to-go orders will be available as well.

Slowpokes, 8147 B Long Point Rd., known for the coffee, also serves wine and beer and will be open with limited indoor dining as of Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Slowpokes also offers to-go orders.

Not all Spring Branch drinking establishments are ready to open up, however. On May 20, Might As Well Lounge and Boozenasium, 8518 Long Point Rd., wrote on Facebook: “Current state guidelines make it difficult for us to open and give you the bar experience you deserve. We hope to raise a glass with y’all soon!”

The state order includes minimum recommended health protocols for all bars or similar establishments choosing to operate in Texas. “Bars or similar establishments may adopt additional protocols consistent with their specific needs and circumstances to help protect the health and safety of all employees, contractors, and customers,” the order says, and cautions that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be spread to others by infected persons who have few or no symptoms.

“The virus that causes COVID-19 is still circulating in our communities. We should continue to observe practices that protect everyone, including the most vulnerable.”

The order includes a checklist of items bars and other establishments should follow. Read the full order here.

The owners of 4J, located at 1348 Cedar Post Lane, shut down their taproom on March 17 when the stay-at-home orders went into effect and then immediately opened their doors for to-go only sales.

“Since we don’t have any employees and my mom and I usually run the bar ourselves, we were able to stay open as long as we felt comfortable interacting with customers and that we were staying as safe and healthy as possible,” Mathis said. “We would never want to put our customers or ourselves in danger but we wanted to also balance operating a business that interacts with the public. We made sure to establish the necessary protocols as responsible business owners to help everyone stay healthy.”

Mathis said 4J borrowed a manual canning machine that seals one can at a time from a Texas brewery not yet open, Flying Rhino Brewing Co. in Dickinson, allowing them to sell 16-ounce beers in four packs.

“This borrowed piece of equipment helped us stay afloat during this time and we are forever grateful to the guys at Flying Rhino,” Mathis said. “Due to the success of the canned beer, we plan on buying the equipment from Flying Rhino.”

4J also incorporated online sales for beer, gift cards and merchandise to be picked up. “This really helped us get canned beer ready ahead of time and allowed for contactless payments,” Mathis said.

“We are so thankful and appreciative to our amazing customers and the Spring Branch community,” Mathis added. “When the stay-at-home orders were enforced, the community came out in droves to support us at 4J. So many customers said, ‘We just want you to be here when everything opens back up.’ We even had to shut down the to-go sales for two days because we didn’t have enough beer!”