Without official vaccination warrants, Boston bars are going it alone


The service sector is on a new front line in public health and some are hoping for reinforcement.


Photos via Instagram / Grendel’s Den

It’s past time to quit, and you’re thirsty for a pint at the local waterhole. Do you know where your vaccination record is?

Or maybe you go see your favorite band. Have you checked if the site has been vaccinated only? Will a negative COVID test be enough?

New questions, warnings and bouts of confusion sweep Boston right now, as a growing cohort of bars, restaurants, nightclubs and businesses of all kinds roll out new restrictions on vaccines. In New York, this paradigm shift was imposed by the city: Starting in September, New Yorkers will have to show proof of vaccination on a city-run app to visit indoor sites. But in and around Boston, where authorities have yet to impose a top-down directive, the unfortunate task of determining whether (and how) to separate the vaxxed from the non-vaxxed is left to the companies themselves. The question is, should they – and by extension the rest of us – have to solve this problem on our own?

If so, it won’t be easy. For the handful of local businesses that have so far chosen to reserve some or all of their services for vaccinated clients only, there has already been a bit of a learning curve. In the absence of a state or city-run program, perhaps with a centralized app like the New York Excelsior Pass, rule management and enforcement (as well as any reviews from angry customers ) fall on the already exhausted shoulders of restaurant guests, bouncers and other staff in contact with the public.

“We had to take matters into our own hands,” says Abby Taylor, manager of Grendel’s Den, a popular Harvard Square pub that was among the first in the state to require proof of vaccination for indoor dining.

For its staff, that means checking paper vaccination cards or photos of them, as well as navigating the multitude of vaccine-checking apps that have emerged this year, looking at the proof of vaccination sent in. by email, text or URL. Being one of the first to adopt a vaccination policy also means dealing with clients who are not yet used to proving they have been trapped. They may be restless about doing this, especially those who insist they have been vaccinated but are not prepared to prove it in a pinch. Maybe they forgot their immunization card at home, or misplaced it a long time ago, destroyed it in the laundry, or destroyed it with a spilled coffee mug. Many people have a photo stored on their phone, but are struggling to find it buried in the middle of a jumble of photos.

This can create scary, embarrassing and often frustrating situations at the door. “Basically we tell the staff to be on the front line, and they’ve already spent a year dealing with people who have different opinions on what we should be doing,” Taylor says. “It’s a lot.”

It’s not exactly clear whether a city-wide or state-wide mandate of the kind heading to New York would make things better or worse for these restaurants, and there seems to be little to do with it. appetite for such a broad solution here. Gov. Charlie Baker says he’s adamantly against a term, and acting Boston Mayor Kim Janey has expressed his thoughts on the issue extensively and in a controversial manner. But the only vaccinated restaurants I spoke with this week say they’re hoping more of their peers will follow suit, or that managers will do something – anything – to help.

For Cambridge’s PAGU, which has been requiring vaccines for indoor dining since June, the spread of restaurants requiring vaccines could go a long way in reducing the heat from critics. While the vast majority of diners were in favor, being early in taking action made PAGU a target for trolls. Angry emails, nasty online comments and suspicious one-star reviews have poured in. Some left aggressive voicemail messages. “Whether or not they had dinner with us is debatable, but there are all forms of hatred and comments calling us communists and saying that this is a violation of their privacy rights or that it’s discrimination, ”says owner Tracy Chang. Staff now regularly track down and report abusive behavior on the Internet.

Fewer express their frustrations in person, Chang says. Typically, the vaccine check process is fairly painless and takes less than a minute. Unvaccinated diners (those who don’t want to eat out, where they are always welcome) have learned to stay away, and some vaccinated clients told Chang they had come to PAGU specifically for the purpose. feeling of security that a fully vaccinated dining room offers.

Nonetheless, Chang would prefer to see a unified front. She has spent the past two months encouraging her peers to adopt similar policies, and she would support a top-down tenure of government. “Putting pressure on small businesses to do it themselves is obviously not insurmountable,” Chang says. “We have shown that it is doable. But being an outlier like one of the few places to do it slows us down a bit. If there was a way to do this city-wide, even state-wide, or even nationwide and people were more used to it, and it was more efficient, that would be welcome. In fact, I think it’s only a matter of time before it happens.

In East Boston, Josh Weinstein says no one had to give him a warrant to demand vaccines from The Quiet Few. After a customer revealed he tested positive inside the popular whiskey bar last week, forcing it to temporarily close – for the second time during the pandemic – “we just decided to jump in to two feet “.

Before the bar reopened with the new policy on Wednesday, he had prepared for the worst. But Weinstein says things went well and only a few people had to be turned away for leaving their immunization cards at home. Of course, having a vaccine mandate would make things “cleaner”, but he hopes people will continue to comply with the new rules without needing a formal mandate.

This may be realistic for a neighborhood bar. In large paid event venues, however, the vaccine verification process can be a bit more complicated and expensive. After all, someone who has already shelled out hard-earned money for a ticket is much more likely to object to exclusion. At City Winery, one of only two clubs (so far) in town to require proof of vaccination – or a negative COVID test, which is scanned and verified by one of the venue’s new CLEAR readers – they have taken extraordinary measures to keep people from turning away. Fans who show up at the estate’s 300-seat music hall can choose to take a quick on-site COVID test, which yields results in about 8 minutes, for a fee of $ 15.

It all comes at a cost – training staff, spending extra time checking everyone at the door – but CEO Michael Dorf says it’s worth making sure national brand sites across the country can keep spinning the music. “It’s a bit of extra work, and we’re all overworked, there’s no doubt about it,” says Dorf. “But that’s what we need to do now.”

He says he hopes other large live event companies, like LiveNation, will eventually implement vaccination mandates so places like his don’t have to go ahead by them- same and to limit the risk of another shutdown of live music.

In the meantime, for many small businesses it is painful to bear the financial and psychological costs of navigating these rough, uncharted waters with no clear direction. And given the devastating blows the service industry has suffered over the past 18 months, it may not be surprising that some are in no rush to take on the added responsibility of enforcing immunization policies. “I’m not going to do it. I respect those who are, but unfortunately I do not have the financial capacity to be able to do it, ”says Nookie Postal, head owner of the Commonwealth of Cambridge.

Postal says he felt burnt by the failure of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, a federal program that pledged millions of dollars in aid to restaurant owners but ultimately distributed those funds to only a fraction of restaurants. who applied. Commonwealth has never seen a dime. So maybe you can forgive her for not wanting to give her staff another responsibility in the age of the pandemic, or risk having to turn away paying customers.

“If the federal government wants to replenish the RRF and give us the money we need to survive, I would be happy to do so. But unless they pay me, I don’t do anything they tell me, ”he says. “I’m not going to be the government ward monitor. I’ll do whatever they ask if they don’t care, but if they don’t they can fuck themselves. They told us we were alone. We are therefore alone. “


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