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Trick or Treat? Bar owners, state officials encourage Halloween safety amid pandemic

Posted at 10:02 PM, Oct 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-30 23:13:55-04

CLEVELAND — For bar and restaurant owners and staff across Northeast Ohio, the days around Halloween usually mean costume parties, large crowds and good money. Although Halloween 2020 comes with occupancy requirements and restricted serving hours, bar owners and state officials are trying to ensure a safe and spooky experience this weekend.

Soaring above the intersection of West 117th Street and Franklin Boulevard, a rooftop skeleton beckons people into Funhouse, a dive bar as unique as it is accurately named. The creepy circus vibe was in full effect Friday night, the day before Halloween. Unlike years past, however, the bar is surrounded by a plexiglass fortress.

"We're basically in a fishbowl," said bartender Scott Anderson. "Everything is separated by every booth and everything by this plastic plexiglass. We are definitely one of the bars that is going above—way above and beyond."

Funhouse staff has taken pride in their COVID-related precautions. Calling the bar's phone number reveals a voicemail greeting reminding guests that masks are required. Another bar employee, affectionately referred to as 'The Enforcer,' will sanitize tables and booths, in addition to walking around the bar reminding patrons to put on their masks.

"It's our rules. You've got to follow them or you've got to go," Anderson said.

Eric Wolf, the enforcement commander at the Ohio Investigative Unit, said by and large, bar and restaurant owners across the state have adhered to the orders from the state's department of health, as well as the emergency rules from the state liquor commission. Those orders and emergency rules stipulate that alcohol must not be served past 10 p.m. and customers must finish their drinks by 11 p.m. Customers must also socially distance and wear masks.

"All of that creates a different environment this year for Halloween," Wolf said. "We're also encouraging individuals to be careful and watch out for themselves as well to restrict the size of the gatherings that they have for Halloween."

In addition to bar and restaurant owners being responsible for what happens inside their establishments, Wolf said patrons share in their own personal responsibility as well.

While the OIU wasn't planning on bringing in additional personnel for enhanced enforcement activities around the Halloween weekend, Wolf said plainclothes agents will be fanning out across the state to ensure compliance.

"We have completed thousands of checks across Ohio and it's a very small percentage of cases where we issue administrative citations against liquor permits," Wolf said. "Most locations are doing everything they can to comply with the department of health orders and the liquor commission rules."

As the number of positive coronavirus cases continue to surge and break daily records, Wolf said it is vital for patrons and bar staff to maintain a high level of hygiene, in addition to the mask and social distancing requirements.

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