Hudson County restaurants, bars react to new COVID-19 restrictions: ‘Just another hurdle’

Across Hudson County, restaurants and bars reacted with resignation as Gov. Phil Murphy announced new restrictions on indoor dining Monday.

Under a slate of new regulations that take effect Thursday, restaurants and bars across the state will be required to shut down indoor dining at 10 p.m. and will not be allowed to reopen before 5 a.m. Customers will not be permitted to sit at bars, and casinos are no longer allowed to serve food and beverages after 10 p.m.

“We know people are getting sloppy in and around bars as the night wears on,” Murphy said.

As new COVID-19 cases rise across the state, new restrictions had been widely expected. Monday is the sixth straight day with 2,000 new coronavirus cases in the state; in Hudson County, officials reported 138 new coronavirus cases Monday, with a seven-day average of 249 new cases per day.

“It’s just another hurdle that were going to have to try and get over,” said Glenn Kuhl, a co-owner of Kuhl’s Tavern in Bayonne.

Kuhl’s Tavern is usually open until “there’s nobody here,” he said, usually around 11:30 or midnight, meaning the 10 p.m. closure time threatens to shave around two hours off the bar’s late-night business. But more concerning for Kuhl is the ban on customers at the bar. The tavern has no outdoor seating, and with its small indoors, restrictions on bar seating will make for a significant loss in capacity.

“That’s going to take a toll on us,” he said.

Kuhl was not the only person who is less than thrilled about the new rules. On Monday, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop took to Twitter Monday to voice his displeasure with the restrictions.

“We’ll follow the governor’s lead of course as that is the law but in #JerseyCity yes we’re seeing more cases but we aren’t seeing the same growth in hospitalizations,” he wrote Monday. “I just believe curfews aren’t the most effective as it isn’t like Covid only comes out at night.”

Fulop has been reluctant to impose new restrictions, even as other North Jersey municipalities put new rules in place. On Monday, the mayor called for “stricter penalties for restaurants/bars that violate rules, more extensive contact tracing, more usage of the app the state implemented, more masks,” instead of new lockdown measures.

Murphy’s new dining rules will likely hit nowhere harder than Hoboken, a tightly packed party town that once reportedly held the Guinness World Record for the most bars per square mile.

Francesca Brewer-Krebs, a manager at Hoboken tavern Onieal’s, said the new 10 o’clock closure would be a significant cut for restaurants and bars.

“Really, we start kicking people out around 9:30 if we have to have them out by 10,” she said. “You can’t seat people by 9:30 to finish dinner by 10. That’s totally impossible. Nobody’s eating dinner in 30 minutes. So you really get cut even further in than just the 10 p.m. cutoff.”

Brewer-Krebs said she understands the necessity of the new restrictions — “It is nice to see that they’re taking everything seriously,” she said — but noted that the order comes just weeks before Thanksgiving, which is usually one of the busiest times of the year for bars.

“Definitely that weekend before, when everyone is coming home for the holidays, there’s a lot of reunions,” she said. “So I think we’re going to get dinged there for sure.”

But across town, at Pilsener Haus & Biergarten, general manager Vince Crysler wasn’t sure.

“That week tended to be very busy because people would come back from college,” Crysler said. “Well, people aren’t away at college anymore. So there’s no normal here.”

Crysler is more concerned that the changing schedules will mean that more people will go out to eat and drink at the same time, creating larger crowds, which, he said, “has the possibility” to create safety hazards.

“If a person wants to go out, they’re going to go out either way,” he said.

Pilsener Haus is not planning any staff cuts in response to the new restrictions. But the new restrictions will amount to “just spreading less money around to the same amount of people,” Crysler said.

“It’s going to affect everybody, from the owners to your bottom-line person.”

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