Bars remain crowded, despite curfew and COVID-19 restrictions




People lined up to enter Varsity Tavern on Mill Avenue in Tempe on June 6, 2020. Photo by Chloe Jones | AZ Mirror

For the sixth night in a row, protesters in Phoenix on Saturday ended their peaceful protest against police brutality before the curfew imposed by Gov. Doug Ducey and dispersed without incident. 

By the time the 8 p.m. curfew went into effect, the streets of downtown Phoenix just had a few people walking to their cars, carrying signs. 

But on Mill Avenue in Tempe, the scene looked different.

By 10 p.m., lines were out the door at Varsity Tavern. Large groups of 15 people crossed the street. Almost no one, including employees at the bars that line the street within walking distance of Arizona State University’s main campus, wore face masks. There were few, if any, signs that patrons or establishments were following U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention social distancing protocols mandated by Ducey’s executive order allowing restaurant dining rooms to open.

While restaurants were allowed to resume in-person dining on May 11, bars remain closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 because social distancing guidelines are impossible to enforce at establishments that exist for face-to-face socializing.

But Varsity Tavern and other bars on Mill Avenue and in other Arizona nightlife hotspots, like Old Town Scottsdale, had found a loophole: Bars that served food could open up like restaurants, even if patrons were there to drink and socialize, not eat. 

And while the curfew that Ducey issued May 31 in response to looting at an upscale Scottsdale mall caused many restaurants to change their hours so they didn’t serve people after 8 p.m., there are exceptions to the curfew allowing people to be out of their hopes if they are “obtaining food” and “patronizing or operating private businesses.” 

As a result, many bars that serve food have remained open nightly until 2 a.m. even as the rest of the state has largely shut down at 8 p.m. for the past week.

As of Sunday morning, Arizona has reported 26,889 cases of COVID-19. This week, the daily increases skyrocketed to more than 1,000 cases per day and set records several times.

State officials attributed the rise in cases to more available testing and testing lags. They did not acknowledge if protesting or re-opening could have affected these numbers. The CDC recommends people wash their hands often, maintain social distancing and to wear a face mask to prevent the spread.