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Area Bars, restaurants unsure of next steps after closure
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Area Bars, restaurants unsure of next steps after closure

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Restaurants and bars remain unsure of the next steps after Gov. Tony Evers ordered a statewide ban on all gatherings of more than 10 people and the closing of inside dining at bars and restaurants to slow the spread of COVID-19.

In Sauk County, Tavern League President Gary Bowar is currently on vacation out of state and declined to comment on the order. But patrons at one local establishment enjoyed an afternoon celebrating.

Square Tavern had roughly a dozen patrons around 2 p.m. on St. Patrick’s Day, sharing drinks and large dishes of the popular meat and vegetable holiday meal.

Jan Reuter-Backeberg, a server with the establishment for nearly 35 years, said roughly 30 people had dined in and they had served one person with a carryout meal. The Downtown Baraboo organization had set up orange cones reserving certain parking spots for carryout meals only.

Given the mandate by Gov. Evers, Reuter-Backeberg said she expects the take-out meals to increase. It will still harm local businesses and workers, she added.

“Bills still come in,” she said.

Tavern staff have spoken to Tavern League President Bowar, but no definitive plans had taken shape by the afternoon, Reuter-Backeberg said. They were seeking guidance on how to proceed once the bar was forced to close inside diners. Bartender Rindy Vantassel said the tavern planned to serve meals for customers to pick up until 7 p.m. — two hours after the mandated closure.

Reuter-Backeberg said there will likely be an increase in meals to go. She would even happily deliver food if it meant customers still received meals and the business could maintain service as the closure continues, she said.

“People still have to eat,” Reuter-Backeberg said.

Tuesday, card players sat in the corner with their hands. Pilsner glasses at the table full with small bottles of hand sanitizer nearby. Conversation shifted to the pandemic currently overtaking most people’s lives as patrons sat with their drinks, either talking about how their jobs or family have been affected by the changes as coronavirus takes over Wisconsin.

Roughly 30 corned beef and cabbage plates were sold, most in-house, by 3 p.m. on St. Patrick’s Day. Some people who stopped in are more concerned about the virus than others.

Audrey Backeberg of Reedsburg said she and her husband were only out to eat because of a disappointing afternoon in Madison. While looking at eyeglass frames, they received a call that the eye exam they had traveled for had been canceled.

“We needed to treat ourselves with some corned beef and cabbage,” Backeberg said of her annual tradition.

As for coronavirus, Backeberg said she was glad to see the general public taking the threat of the virus seriously as closures are announced. If they hadn’t had the eye exam, they likely would not have left the house Tuesday, she said.

“There’s no need to go looking for trouble,” Backeberg said. “There’s plenty right where you’re at. It seems to find us.”

Alternatively, 72-year-old Bill Grohusky of Baraboo, said “the cat’s out of the bag two weeks ago.”

“I think it’s a little too late to worry,” he said. “You get it, you get it. It’s just the way it is.”

He said he knows his age and diabetes diagnosis isn’t favorable for his health odds but said, “My age, we’ve all got to die. I don’t worry about it.”

Claine Clements, owner of State Street Tap in Mauston, said the rapid escalation of the situation is a shock.

“It’s not something normal or that anyone has ever dealt with here before,” Clements said.

Like many bars and restaurants, State Street Tap is hoping to remain open for take-out, though Clements questions how long only doing take-out will be sustainable.

“For a little bit it might be OK, but people don’t just have thousands of extra dollars laying around,” Clements said. “My biggest concern is trying to take care of the employees.”

Clements recommends buying gift cards as a way to support local businesses during the closure, even for bars and restaurants not offering take-out or delivery.

Dodge County Tavern League President Kathy Martin said the league is formulating a plan to provide guidance to members during the closure.

“I haven’t had a chance to let it all sink in,” Martin said. “The order is by 5 p.m. you have to close, if you’re a restaurant you can do takeout food and delivery, and that’s it.”

Martin said she has not had a chance to get in touch with league members yet to determine which restaurants will remain open, though her bar, The Dockside Pub and Grill in Beaver Dam, will offer takeout on a limited basis.

“It’s way too early to know who’s going to or not,” Martin said.

“I feel like this COVID 19 virus has won this battle, but if we all stick together we will win the war,” Martin said. “We need to stick together, not panic, and we’ll get through this.”

Reach Christopher Jardine on Twitter @ChrisJJardine or contact him at 608-432-6591.

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