The New Normal: Happy Valley’s Bar Scene in a Pandemic

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For many students over the age of 21, back to school also means back to the bars. However, a crowded bar full of people probably isn’t the best idea during a global pandemic. The bars of State College have made a lot of changes so that we can still party, but safely.  

Starting July 16, restaurants and bars in Pennsylvania can only operate at 25% capacity, due to an order by Gov. Tom Wolf. The restrictions also eliminated bar seating and lines, and any alcohol served must either be consumed with food or taken to-go. In a college town, these restrictions can change a bar scene drastically.

More recently, Gov. Wolf has ordered that restaurants and bars can shift towards 50% capacity, but starting September 21, alcohol sales must end at 10 p.m. Many students are unhappy about this, and have even started petitions trying to exempt college towns from this rule.

“This new law will steer so many students over the age of 21 away from the bar scene and will force them into small, jam-packed, unregulated apartment parties, ultimately causing the number of [COVID-19] cases to increase exponentially,” says Kristina Orgueira, a senior who started a petition on Change.org regarding the newest regulations.

VALLEY spoke with Curtis Shulman, the director of operations for the parent company of Bill Pickle’s Tap Room, and Greg DuBois, the regional operations director of the State College location of Primanti Bros. Shulman and DuBois gave us some insight into the details of the new restrictions and how they are operating with the return of Penn State students.

“The restrictions have drastically reduced sales and our ability to operate our bar in its normal capacity. The elimination of lines and bar seating, along with the reduced capacity and the requirement of food purchases, makes it impossible to operate profitably,” says Shulman. “That being said, we do not necessarily disagree with all of the restrictions as we agree our primary obligation is to protect the health of our staff and community.” 

The new guidelines also require tables of ten and under, so it can be difficult to go out with a larger group of friends. Applications such as LineLeap and services like Waitlist Me are utilized by the bars to ensure parties can sit together without having to wait in a crowded line. 

Over at Primanti Bros, DuBois says that LineLeap has been “really successful” in managing their tables and reservations. LineLeap allows patrons to reserve spots at their desired bar ahead of time on the app, but these quickly-taken time slots typically cost $5 per person.

The owners of Bill Pickle’s Tap Room decided to try something different. “We use Waitlist Me because it does not require our customers to download an app. As a business, we use the software and all the consumer has to do is text. It’s working well,” says Shulman.

When you arrive at the bar, you give the bouncer your name, cell phone number, and party size. The bouncer then texts you through Waitlist Me when your table is ready so you can safely wait elsewhere for your table, and it is free for both the bar and patrons to use.

Another new rule that bar patrons must deal with is the requirement of ordering food with your drinks. Analisa Tafro (senior, political science) spoke with VALLEY about how that has altered her routine on the weekends.

“I love to cook my own meals because it is usually healthier and cheaper than eating out,” says Tafro. “Now that I have to order and pay for food when I go to a bar with my friends, I’m worried about overspending and eating too much bar food, like wings, fries, nachos, etc.”

To maintain healthy habits while still having fun, VALLEY suggests planning out what you are going to eat at the bar, and cooking foods at home to fill in these gaps. Try making vegetables and protein for dinner, then getting an order of fries or nachos to share with a friend when you go out.

While the new restrictions have made operations trickier at Primanti Bros, DuBois maintains a positive attitude. “The great community of Happy Valley, our awesome staff and a restaurant that was willing to evolve, adapt and grow has helped us weather the storm,” says Dubois.

VALLEY does not support underage drinking. Please remember to always drink responsibly.”

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