Rooftop bars might once have seemed like a mere novelty, but in a time when adequate ventilation and sufficient room to socially distance are paramount, these outdoor venues are becoming downright essential.
The world only had the chance to taste freedom for two months of 2020 before everything began to shut down and we all barricaded ourselves in our homes. Everything we knew was quickly swept away by the coronavirus, and nobody knew what was going to happen to the world. Now, almost six months into the worldwide pandemic that’s changing the way we eat, sleep, breathe, and go out in public, services are slowly beginning to open their doors once again.
Everyone’s eager to return to normal life, but COVID is still very much a concern, which has led people to rethink the ways they spend time in public. They want to go to bars again, but they don’t necessarily want to cram into a cramped bar. One popular alternative that some locals have opted for has been to visit a rooftop bar, where instead of cramming into a poorly-ventilated enclosed space, you can sip a cocktail while remaining outdoors, enjoying an evening in the clouds.
Where rooftop bars are concerned, Richmond offers a variety of options. From the Graduate’s rooftop bar, Byrd House, and the HofGarden, to Kabana Rooftop and the Q Rooftop Bar at the Quirk Hotel, pandemic-adverse locals have been flocking to facilities that can offer them an opportunity to order a cocktail in a safer environment than indoor restaurants and bars can provide.
Of course, safety is still an extremely important factor for all of Richmond’s rooftop bars. Sandi Cauley of The HofGarden in Scott’s Addition says they are still in operation, but can only accommodate a fraction of the crowd due to safety concerns. Many larger events that had been planned before the pandemic had to be canceled.
“All of our staff members are required to wear masks; guests must wear them too, unless they are seated at their tables,” Cauley said. “We also have hand sanitizing stations around our Taproom, Loft and Rooftop. We have spaced out all the seating and only allow for a small group of six or less to gather, and we have added QR codes to each table that open to our menu and allow guests to order without contact and use of a paper menu.” In order to keep control of the crowds, a reservations system is in place at the HofGarden, but Cauley says they continue to get filled up fairly quickly.
Derick Washington, Director of Operations for Kabana Rooftop in the Arts District, says that he believes the appeal is much higher for rooftop bars than that of standard indoor bars because of the skyline views and outdoor space. With the recent reopenings of some public spaces, Kabana has taken advantage of the shutdown to reinvent their bar and readied themselves for safely accepting customers again. “We are constantly working on new cocktails, food, and even events that we can operate safely to bring something new to the rooftop as much as possible during these times,” said Washington. Kabana has also engaged in some restrictions in order to ensure that safety remains a priority for them.
“We do take responsibility to guarantee our guests a safe space to enjoy a refreshing cocktail and food,” Washington said. “We are still regulating guest entry with mandatory use of masks, not only to enter the venue, but any time they are not within the area that they have been seated. It is a difficult task due to the size of our venue, but we have also continued operations to not include bar service, so guests are mandated to wait at their tables and receive service there only, instead of the usual venture to the bar.”
Nico Scherman, general manager of Quirk Hotel, the popular hotel, restaurant, and bar downtown, describes how their Q Rooftop bar looked at the quarantine as a chance to switch up the way they looked at serving food and drinks.
“Obviously with the way things are running this year, we’ve got to rethink about how we operate,” Scherman said. “It’s resonating very well with our guests. The goal is to operate responsibly so that our guests, colleagues, and staff feel safe. We have a new reservation system, so it’s a goal to maximize the guest experience with the time that they have.”
Both Kabana and Q Rooftop have utilized their time stuck in quarantine as a chance to reinvent and come up with new items before reopening safely again. For Scherman, an important step is having food and drinks already waiting for the guest by the time they come in for their reservation, to minimize standing in lines and keep guests farther away from others.
“We try to do as much as we can up front,” Scherman said. “So if people are waiting for anything, we’ve bottled a lot of our house cocktails. And then we have our boozy popsicles, and those do change every day.”
There are a variety of other methods these venues are using to minimize contact and keep patrons’ visits as safe as possible. The HofGarden is using the QR code method to allow customers to order food from their devices, so that orders go straight to the kitchen with minimal contact. The Q Rooftop bar implemented a new handle sanitation system; they placed self-cleaning patches on every doorknob to ensure that germs are dead by the time the next patron comes along.
Although it may seem like COVID-19 isn’t quite going anywhere for a while, plenty of people want to find a way to live as close to a normal life as possible in spite of the restrictions. To that end, the best everyone can do is practice safer methods for going out in public spaces — and rooftop bars are here to help.
“I think that there is certainly a greater comfort level between the steps that we’ve taken in making people feel safe from the second you enter the front door,” Scherman said. “[Feedback from guests] has been very positive. I think part of the people are just really trying to get outside, enjoy the environment, and socialize as much as you can in this situation. I think that’s resonating.”
“We are beyond grateful for the guests that have joined us each day and continue to work with us through these dark times,” Washington said. “We strive every day to continue to provide an extraordinary venue for the RVA community to continue to enjoy, and hope that we are able to do so for many more years to come.”
Top Photo: Kabana Rooftop, via Facebook