The Wash
According to the phase two reopening guidelines, businesses must display signs informing about social distancing and mask wearing. (Ana Alvarez/ The Wash)

NoMa restaurants adapting to new health guidelines but it’s not easy

Some nightlife businesses remain closed and others are struggling.

NoMa is the home to many restaurants and bars that have adapted their usual services to the new Coronavirus safety guidelines. 

Some have closed and others, like Wunder Garten, have found a way to continue serving customers looking for an escape from the chaos that social distancing causes. 

They hosted a Drag Night Bingo in which they “encouraged folks,” said Cory S., one of the managers at Wunder Garten, “to come dressed in their costumes for Halloween; obviously still wear your mask.” The manager preferred his last name not be published because he works in a government office as well.

From Oktoberfest to an Election Day Watch Party, the outdoor beer garden continued receiving people in the middle of the pandemic since the reopening in June.

“If we can do it, and still do it safely,” Cory said, adding that they are making things “as normal as we can” during these abnormal times.

Wunder Garten customer, Lucie Mendelson, said that she felt safe because the location was outdoors, and she was with people she knew were healthy. 

Mendelson, who is an American University student and private school teacher, said that going out the night before elections last week was her first night out in approximately two months. She said she and her friends get tested regularly because they work in the education system.

Wunder Garten is in a parking lot on NoMa. The beer garden is designed like a modern food truck park with bench tables, cabanas and seats around a fireplace. 

The Wash visited the location one evening last week and saw the bench tables were not six feet apart from each other. We also noticed that many people in line were not following social distancing guidelines. 

The people had to wait outside until an employee from the inside of the location said they could come in. (Ana Alvarez/ The Wash)

Managers at the beer garden told The Wash they do their best to make clients follow Covid-19 guidelines. They have had instances where they have asked clients to leave because they are not following protocol, Cory said. They also said they are gathering personal information from customers to help with potential “contact tracing.” This helps them with registering the number of people per table which they have limited to six.

Mendelson said she was “happy” when she got to Wunder Garten and saw they were doing contact tracing and would come back. 

Cory said that employees of Wunder Garten do not have to be regularly tested for Covid-19. (Ana Alvarez/The Wash)

The District of Columbia established guidance for restaurants operating during the pandemic. Restaurants must operate to a 50% capacity with tables set six feet apart, people cannot stand in the bar, only six people are permitted per table and everyone that comes to the location must be registered. 

Cory said clients can take off their masks when they are sitting at the table, but they must use it when going to the bathroom. The D.C. guidelines require customers to wear masks when they are not eating or drinking.

Operators of The Pub and the People, a restaurant and bar located ten minutes from the NoMa metro station, told The Wash they try to enforce this rule. 

 They ask customers to wear their masks at the table when they are not eating. Like Wunder Garten, they permit six people per table and keep reservation information for contact tracing purposes. 

Mathew Murphy said that they take the temperature of the employees every day. If they are sick, regarding if it is not Covid-19, they cannot come to work; no employee has tested positive. (Ana Alvarez/The Wash)

Matthew Murphy, co-owner of the location, said that they serve customers both inside and outside of their establishment, but they do not let clients sit at the bar. They have evolved from only serving food through delivery to their current operating state.

Murphy said that at the beginning of the pandemic there was a “learning curve,” but it has “gotten better.” He said that because city rules are changing all the time, it has taken time to educate the customers on the guidelines they need to follow while consuming. He said that it would have been helpful if the city sent a phone notification, similar to the ones sent regarding the weather, to notify of guideline change. 

Elevate Club located in the NoMa community found a way to keep entertaining guests during the pandemic. Instead of hosting inside, they created an open space where they have a DJ and tables for customers to enjoy the music and Hookahs. 

Some nightclubs, like Ultrabar located nine minutes from NoMa in Capitol Hill, haven’t been able to reopen. 

A doctor’s perspective

“Our perception of risk,” Dr. Melissa Hawkins said, “is really interesting to think about.” “Just because something is allowed,” Hawkins said, “that doesn’t mean it’s safe.” While talking about being safe outdoors, she mentioned this about indoor dining which she said is a big risk. 

Hawkins, who is the director of the American University undergraduate Public Health Scholars Program, said that eating outdoors with people that are within your circle is the best way to be social without contracting the virus. 

Hawkins said that she does not advise eating in indoor locations which is something that people might consider now that the winter cold is starting.

“This is a marathon, not a sprint,” Hawkins said. She said that because people have a need to be social, they need to understand the risks and be “strategic and informed.”


Ana Álvarez

Ana Álvarez is a Puerto Rican graduate student pursuing a degree in Journalism and Public Affairs with a specialization in investigative journalism. She covers the NoMa community for The Wash.

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