Friday update: Grizz Burrito @ STIX

STIX, the Asian, sushi, and hibachi restaurant opened in Peabody Place this week, and with nothing else to do, I decided to try take-out lunch there. They had two sushirritos on the menu, and I ordered one, the Grizz Burrito. It consists of spicy tuna, shrimp tempura, cucumber, crab, masago, spicy mayo and sweet soy wrapped in rice and soy paper.

One thing I will tell you: Your burrito won’t hold its shape for long! By 5 bites into each half of the burrito, it had totally fallen apart and I had to get out the fork. Also, the one paper napkin they give you in the to-go utensil pack is not going to be enough. Better have some extras standing by. They gave me chopsticks and 5 packets of soy sauce as well, which I didn’t attempt to use.

Despite being messy, the burrito was delicious and they used quality ingredients. I would get it again, although I may work my way through some of the other menu options before I come back to it.

The documentary on The Little Tea Shop premieres tonight at 7:30 on WKNO. You can join a live chat with owner Suhair Lauck tonight at 8.

The Memphis Tigers football program suffered a blow yesterday. The Big 10 announced they are going to play in-conference games only. The Tigers had a road trip to Purdue scheduled for the second week of the season. Not only will the Tigers lose a $750,000 appearance fee, but it will be harder for Memphis to get back to a New Year’s Six bowl without a win over a Power 5 opponent.

Last week I posted an article about the ghost kitchen future of restaurants. Well, Jennifer Chandler, food writer from the Commercial Appeal, posted that she tried delicious fare from an upcoming ghost restaurant called Cocozza. From the photo of the menu she posted, it appears to be an Italian restaurant, and it will be operated by none other than Patrick & Deni Reilly of the Majestic Grille. Chandler said she would have a story about the place next week, so keep an eye on her column on the CA’s website.

Congratulations to the Crowne Plaza Hotel in the Pinch District, which was recently named by travel agents as one of the 12 cleanest hotels in the world in a Reader’s Digest article.

Fruit flies are out of control everywhere this summer, and a neighbor of mine gave me a tip last night: Use a mixture that is about 4 parts apple cider vinegar and 1 part dishwashing detergent as a trap.

Yesterday’s COVID-19 task force press conference provided a clearer understanding of the serious situation Shelby County is currently in. Testing capacity is becoming strained. Lab reports are not coming back as quickly as they were a month ago. Contact tracing is harder to do now that the average number of cases is around 300 a day.

Here’s a scary statistic: This tool predicts that if 10 people gather at an event in Shelby County, there’s a 36% chance someone there will have COVID-19. Gather 25 people in the county and there’s a 66% chance someone will have the virus. Go up to 50 people and it becomes 88%, and go up to 100% and we’re at greater than 99%. In that light it becomes more clear why they closed the bars. (hat tip to the Daily Memphian for providing a link to the tool)

Health department director Dr. Haushalter said there have been reports of people who have tested positive for COVID-19, and then attended parties or events knowing they were infected. Other people at these events went on to get infected as well. It sounds unbelievable that anyone would care that little for other human lives, but then again I have met a few people in my lifetime who are that evil.

They opened it up to questions, and Omer Yusuf, the Daily Memphian reporter who usually covers the press conferences, had questions. However, yesterday’s conference was unusual in that the DM sent a second reporter: food writer Jennifer Biggs. Biggs had previously published a list of limited-service restaurants that will be required to close. She asked Haushalter if venues that are licensed as full-service restaurants, but essentially operate at bars, will be looked into by the health department and Haushalter said yes. Then Biggs asked about bars licensed for beer only, and therefore would not be on any list provided by the state. Haushalter said the health department has lists of those places too, and they will make sure those places do indeed close.

Despite being a full-service restaurant and therefore technically allowed to remain open, Bardog Tavern is reverting to take-out only. Their temporary hours are 11 AM to 10 PM and you can call 901-275-8752 to order some of Grandma’s famous meatballs, the Amazing Island Club, the sliders or any of Bardog’s other excellent menu items. With the closure of indoor dining, neither the Health Department nor the Daily Memphian will need to send spies out to ensure that nobody is having any fun at the neighborhood tavern.

Max’s Sports Bar can’t serve people inside under the new directive, but they will still sell to-go food and drinks out of their bar limited service restaurant window next to the front door.

RiverArtsFest is the latest festival to cancel for 2020.

In yesterday’s press conference, Dr. Haushalter said once again that once the Health Department officials see more people wearing masks, they will be able to ease restrictions on bar limited service restaurant closings and restaurant closing times. So please, please, please WEAR A MASK any time you are out in public! It will get good people back to work.

Happy Friday. Back tomorrow with more news.

Thursday update

We have a new place to eat in the Downtown core! STIX, an Asian, sushi, and hibachi restaurant, is now open in the Peabody Place/ServiceMaster complex with an entrance on Second. It opened Tuesday and people who have been told me you enter your order on a touch screen. It is takeout only noon to 8 Monday-Saturday. Yummm they have sushi burritos! Expect a picture of Perjorie T. Roll standing next to a Grizz Burrito soon.

I tried a good beer yesterday:

Dog Days is a light, refreshing pink lemonade shandy by Crosstown Brewing Co. If you’re lucky enough to have a pool that is open, this would be a great beer to take to it.

Jennifer Biggs of the DM posted a list of bars limited service restaurants that have to close due to the health department’s new directive. This is such an arbitrary way of deciding who can stay open and who can’t. It punishes small business owners, it puts people out of work for a second time, and it doesn’t address the real issue, which is not the bars themselves but idiots who refuse to follow rules.

I don’t believe either Blue Monkey location is open right now, but under the rules the Downtown Monkey would be allowed to stay open but the Midtown Monkey would not. That is absurd.

Hey, Randy, Theresa, Bardog on Saturday? Because apparently we’re still legally allowed to do that. We’ve just got to make sure Bloom records our phone numbers and where we sat, which should be easy enough to remember since we sit in the same spot every week.

Man… forcing the restaurants to record names and phone numbers of all who come in could be bad news for dudes sneaking around with their side piece.

Nick Scott, owner of Alchemy, says he won’t close down as ordered. Despite how it is licensed, he says Alchemy is a full-service restaurant, and liquor only accounts for such a large part of total sales volume because they use top-shelf liquors in their cocktails. Nick, I support you, and I may well grab a Lyft out to your restaurant to enjoy one of your delicious concoctions in the next couple of weeks. I’ll have some food too of course.

Why are health departments going after bars so hard right now? Well, part of it may be community spread happening at the bars, but I suspect there may be another reason. We are down to one month before what would traditionally be the beginning of the school year, and schools are in no way ready to open. People are pissed that bars are open and schools are not.

Okay. I’m going to make a radical proposal here. Schools have always been about teaching children to

  1. Obey
  2. Memorize

when they should be teaching children

  1. To think for themselves
  2. That we are all in this together as a human race, and what you do for another, you do for yourself; so if you cause your neighbor to become better, stronger, wiser, you cause yourself to become those things as well

Why not do without school for a year and re-think the school system to instill those values in our children? Think of the amazing leadership our country and our world would have in thirty years’ time. Think of how things that divide us, like racism, would wither away.

The coronavirus is our opportunity to re-imagine all of our institutions. Look how creative we have gotten with working from home. Let’s apply that creativity to schools as well.

Sad news: Asian-American restaurant Wok’n in Memphis, located in Puck Food Hall, has fallen victim to the economic impact of COVID-19. They will close their location in the food hall, but will retain their online presence as gourmet provisions provider @wokn_in_pickle_co.

You can play the virtual game show Matching in Memphis, where you try to match answers to fill-in-the-blank questions provided by local celebrities, tonight from 7:00 to 8:30. It’s presented by Cerrito Trivia and Riverset Rye. If you’re unfamiliar with this concept, this video will help: (bonus: Betty White!)

I want to give another shout-out to local meal preparation company Eat Amplified. A friend of mine has been ordering their healthy, nutritious meals for about 8 months now. He has lost 50 pounds and is able to do things he hasn’t done in years. They have a menu of their offerings on their site, but my friend tells me you can talk to them, explain what you’re hoping to accomplish, and they will come up with a customized plan for you.

The DM’s Geoff Calkins has thoughts on Dr. Jon McCullers’ prediction two months ago that Neyland Stadium would be empty this fall. It’ll be the best the stadium has ever looked.

Vanity Fair has a look at Ghislane Maxwell’s life on the lam. She was Jeffrey Epstein’s alleged partner in crime, who helped recruit underage girls for sexcapades. She was arrested last week. If I were Bill Clinton I would be very afraid right now.

Remember, everyone… if you want football this fall, if you want to attend a Memphis 901 FC game this season, if you want your bars limited service restaurants back, mask up whenever you are out in public. Back tomorrow with more news.

Wednesday update: COVID-19 task force closes bars

One thing I’ve learned is that when the COVID-19 task force announces new restrictions in their Tuesday/Thursday press conferences, the guidelines are often unclear. You have to turn to the written health directive for clarification. Yesterday’s press conference was certainly no exception.

Dr. Haushalter, head of the Shelby County Health Department, announced in yesterday’s press conference that, due to a large part of the spread of COVID-19 attributed to social encounters, bars would close and restaurants would have to close at 10 PM, “effective midnight tomorrow.” She said that bars that serve food would continue to be allowed to serve food at the bar.

Now, I think Dr. Haushalter has generally done an amazing job communicating with the public during this pandemic, but I have a bone to pick with her here: I wish she would use the same language that defines establishments in Tennessee liquor-by-the-drink licenses. As I understand it, a true bar is an establishment that sells only beverages. Establishments that serve food but are more bar than restaurant are licensed as limited-service restaurants. For example, the Blind Bear is a limited-service restaurant; I know so because the owner told me. I believe the other places I mention frequently on here are too.

Dr. Haushalter then went on to say that bars that serve food can continue to serve food at the bar. She did not say whether they were allowed to serve liquor when customers also order food.

Also, she said the new rules would go into effect “midnight tomorrow.” That was unclear too. Since midnight is the first minute of the day, that would imply the bars would have had to close 8 hours ago as of the time I’m typing this post (about 8 AM Wednesday, July 8). But most people, when they say “midnight tomorrow,” really mean the first minute of two days from now. Different news sources reported different days as a result of this confusion. This is why a lot of contests write in their rules, “entries close at 11:59 PM.”

So, let’s look at the health directive

Any changes between this Directive and Directive No. 7 shall take effect Wednesday, July 8, 2020, at 12:00 p.m.

There you have it. It’s not midnight after all. The changes go into effect today at noon. So whatever business are going to be closed, probably shouldn’t even bother opening today, or else it will be a real short day.

All businesses in the county may open, except

  1. Bars, Limited Service Restaurants, and Clubs.

There you have it. Places that are more bar than restaurant can’t be open.

Cloth face coverings or masks should not be placed on young children under age of two or on children [under] twelve if they cannot understand how and when to wear a face mask

That clears up the misunderstanding of whether face masks have to be worn by everyone over age 2 or age 12.

What Dr. Haushalter said about “bars” being allowed to still “serve food at the bar” does not appear to be covered anywhere in the health directive.

Interestingly, there’s nothing in the health directive about restaurants being restricted to a 10 PM closing time either.

One other interesting thing in the health directive that I have never heard discussed at any press conference: Restaurants are supposed to maintain charts of who sat where, with a minimum of first and last name and phone number for at least 21 days to assist in contact tracing. I have yet to see any restaurant actually do this.

What a mess. I get the sense officials, having announced they would look at restrictions on restaurants and bars early this week, felt pressured to get something out there by yesterday. If they didn’t, no doubt the Facebook “medical experts” would be posting this morning, “Dr. Alisa ‘Take Your Time’ Haushalter promised us restrictions on bars early this week. Well, it’s Wednesday, and we’re hearing crickets. WEDNESDAY IS NOT EARLY IN THE WEEK!!!”

Haushalter did tell us exactly how to get our bars back. She said that the restrictions don’t have to be kept in place long, and the key is that they need to see an increased number of people wearing their face masks. So, wear your masks, everyone! Even if you think they are no good health-wise (and I would disagree), do it so some great small businesses can get back open as quickly as possible.

An announcement we all knew was coming was released yesterday: The Breakaway-Bardog 5K and Monroe Avenue Festival is canceled for 2020. There’s just no way it could happen in the middle of a pandemic. That event has become the kickoff event for the late summer/fall festival season. This year, yesterday’s announcement will be the kickoff of more cancellation announcements.

Raymond James is taking one more step to leave Downtown, filing permits to renovate the interior of its new East Memphis digs. That sure sucks for Raymond James employees who moved Downtown so they’d have a very short commute. Now they’re going to deal with Poplar/I-240 traffic at 5 PM. Been there, done that, and it is not fun.

Off to work, and after that… well, nothing, I guess, unless I find out I’m wrong about the restrictions going into effect at noon. Back tomorrow, although I have no idea what I will write about.

Tuesday update: My 3-point proposal to keep bars open, volunteer with MIFA, Hibernation Tots, and more

The Shelby County Health Department is expected to announce additional restrictions on businesses this week, in response to the uptick in both number of COVID-19 cases and testing positivity rate. Bars are expected to be at the top of the list for new restrictions.

I have mixed feelings. On one hand, I like going to bars, and do frequently. They allow me to be social, to meet and know my neighbors, to meet and know the people who own businesses in my neighborhood. They are also my reward after a day at work.

On the other hand, the problems regarding COVID-19 spread at bars are quite real. Many customers simply are not willing to observe the regulations on their own. They either don’t know there are rules, or they think the rules are less important than their partying. They crowd the bar areas, they make no effort to distance, they won’t wear masks. It’s irritating, scary, and appalling how these people have no consideration for others during a pandemic.

I thought to myself, is there a way to control cutomers without putting some wonderful small business owners out of business? Is there a way to eliminate the inconsiderate people’s behavior while not punishing those customers who have been obeying the rules? I propose the bars stay open with the following 3-point plan:

  1. No more “seat yourself.” There has to be a doorman or host at the front door during all hours the bars are open. The doorman takes your temperature, makes sure you have a mask on, and reminds you that you have to put on your mask any time you are not seated. He/she then directs you to a properly socially distanced seat, table, or booth of your choice. If no seat is available, he/she gives you the option of being put on a waiting list. This would ensure that everyone inside has a properly distanced area of their own and would eliminate people just randomly standing around.
  2. Only people seated at the bar area can order at the bar area. For everyone else, the bartender would have to come out to the tables/booths/patio to take orders, or there would need to be a server. This would eliminate people crowding the bar. This would need to be explained by the doorman to customers at the time they are let in. Yeah I know, it would take longer to get drinks and might require staffing up a bit, but it’s better than closing.
  3. No background noise. No jukebox. No Pandora. No Spotify. The TVs can be on but no sound, even for Grizzlies games. The reason why is that music or a TV turned up loud means you have to talk loud to be heard over the noise. The louder you talk, the farther droplets are spread, and the more likely people will be to take off masks to talk. This regulation would absolutely suck, but again, it’s better than closing.

The following measures unfortunately will likely be considered but in my opinion are inappropriate or ineffective:

  • Closing the bars altogether – punishes bar owners, putting some of them out of businesses they have owned for years, because a segment of their customer base are inconsiderate assholes.
  • Banning on-site consumption of alcohol – this also punishes bar owners because they lose revenue from loyal regulars like me. Not once during the lockdown did I purchase a to-go drink from a bar. The reason I am willing to pay $24 for six PBRs at Bardog when I could get the same product for $7.69 at City Market is the social aspect. Take that away and I have no reason to go to bars.
  • Banning seating at bar areas – all this does is reduce capacity even further, and take away a source of revenue/tips. Bar seating is no different from any other seating. Banning bar seating strikes me as a token gesture to show that they did something, rather than taking the time to come up with well-thought-out restrictions.

Since this might be the last week for a while that I get to enjoy my favorite hangouts as I know them, I decided to treat myself to dinner at the Blind Bear last night. I was seated at the bar, six feet from any other customers, my mask on any time my feet touched the floor. One of my favorite dishes is the Hibernation Fries topped with pepper jack cheese sauce, tomatoes, fresh diced jalapeno peppers, onions, and your choice of ground beef or chicken. However, there’s a new wrinkle to the fries. The Bear has tater tots now, so I got the fries made as tater tots with ground beef.

Totchos! Mm-mm-good. I could eat less than half of the order, so the rest is sitting in my refrigerator, waiting for me to come home from work today.

Food truck news: El Mero Taco, which started out as a food truck and eventually became a brick & mortar location, has bought the Say Cheese food truck. The folks who founded Say Cheese felt it was time to move on, that they were missing too much of their kids growing up. Glad the truck will stick around. Say Cheese was the first Memphis food truck I ever tried.

Beer for err-body: Edible Memphis has a story about Beale Street Brewing Co., Memphis’ first black-owned brewery. Meet Kelvin Kolheim, the founder of the company, in the article and learn about his love for beer, and for Memphis.

Small business owners: PPP loan applications are once again being accepted. There’s still money in the pool allocated by Congress.

WREG has a look at the new 100,000 SF facility the Union Mission will soon open to better serve its clients experiencing homelessness.

Looking for some volunteer opportunities? In a recent email, MIFA shared several ways you can help.

  • Make birthday cards for seniors: For many seniors, your birthday card will be the only one they get. Send completed cards to Kristi Estes at MIFA, P. O. Box 3130, Memphis, TN 38137. Learn more
  • Donate cloth face masks for senior clients: Drop off masks at 910 Vance Ave. or mail them to MIFA, Attn: Kathy Williams, P. O. Box 3130, Memphis, TN 38173.
  • Check on seniors by phone: This is a great way to give seniors much needed company without leaving your own home, and you’d be surprised at the relationships that can develop. Sign up here
  • Deliver Meals on Wheels: There are morning deliveries Monday through Wednesday. Measures are in place to keep volunteers and clients safe, including curbside pick-up and contactless delivery. Sign up here

Regarding Facebook friend requests: I am happy to accept friend requests from my readers who I have never met in person. However, from now through November, I am instituting a new rule: If you friend request me, I am going to go look at your public timeline. If more than 50% of the posts I see there are political, I am going to decline your request, although you’re welcome to request me again in four months. Between the debate about COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter protests, and the upcoming presidential election, I have more than enough politics in my news feed. I’m not going to unfriend anybody over it but I don’t want any more of it. In the past week I have declined at least 2 people, one conservative, one liberal, who I would have let through in normal times.

That’s it for now. Back tomorrow with more news, or later today if there’s anything super important.



Monday update

Miss RAWK’n Grub’s food? You’ll be able to get a couple of popular items tomorrow at The Vault, 124 G.E. Patterson. Check out these two posts from Chef Steph Cook:

Ok groupies it’s been a minute since we’ve posted as a lot of new things are in the works for a new location but in the meantime our friends at The VAULT on GE Patterson have graciously allowed us to satisfy our fans tastebuds to serve special burgers, sandwiches and some classic hits. So this Tuesday July 7, we will feature The Big Popper and Swiss You Were Here Burgers. Thanks for everyone’s patience while we regroup and get situated in our next place. We’ll post pics and deets of the burger and logistics. RAWK ON!!!

The Big Popper! 8oz of our special grind, Angus Chuck, Brisket, Tenderloin, Short Rib, stuffed with a Jalapeño Popper, yes a Popper IN a burger. Topped with Provolone, Pepperjack, Cream Cheese with diced jalapeños, Bacon and Hot Sauce, Arugula tossed in Bacon Jam Vinaigrette. This is available by calling or texting your order to 901-728-2660 and pickup at The Vault on 124 G.E. Patterson. Come in and grab a local brew or curbside if you prefer. Also available is the Swiss You Were Here Burger. Hope to see allot of our regular groupies and some new ones Tuesday!

In other food news, I want to pass along a recommendation from a friend of mine: He says that the $5 breakfast sandwiches at Loflin Yard’s Sunday brunch are delicious and they fill you up.

Regarding policing each other on masking and social distancing, this is not a terrible idea:

Flooding at Loflin Yard yesterday:

Up in my neck of the woods – I can see the intersections of Second and Monroe and Main and Monroe from my windows – it was blowing sheets of pea-sized hail sideways for more than 5 minutes. I haven’t seen a hailstorm like that in many years. Thank goodness the pellets were small.

That’s it for now. Back to work on Monday after a dull weekend. Back tomorrow.

Extremely important PBR news

Jeannette at the Blind Bear is constantly looking for ways to keep her customers and employees safe during the pandemic. One thing she did was install foot poles on the bathroom doors so you don’t have to touch the handles. That is much appreciated, because as was demonstrated earlier in the week, not everyone washes their hands.

Jeannette also recognized that every employee-customer interaction was a possible chance to transmit the virus, and she looked for ways to reduce the number of those interactions without compromising customer happiness. Therefore, she has instituted bucket specials.

The specials are:

  • PBR – 5 16-ounce cans for $10 ♥♥♥♥♥♥
  • Domestic bottles – 5 for $15
  • Import, craft and local beers and White Claw – 5 for $20

That PBR special is a game-changer. The reason I’ve been spending so much time at Silly Goose lately is their incredible happy hour where 16-ounce PBRs are only $2. With the Bear effectively offering PBRs at the same price point when bought in buckets, they will re-capture more of my business.

From their standpoint, they’re protecting their employees by facilitating only 1 interaction with a customer rather than 5. And, by the way, I watched them sanitize several buckets before re-using them.

The concept of using buckets to cut down number of customer interactions is nothing new. Years ago, bartenders at Max’s Sports Bar noticed that several old poots who sit at the corner table were big-time Miller Lite bottle drinkers. By using buckets, the bartenders might have to venture over to check on the poots 5 times a day instead of 25. COVID-19 was not a thing back then, but the poots have a condition called “notrophy” that the bartenders didn’t want to catch.

I hear that Miller Lite goes great with Bananas Foster…

442 new cases of COVID-19 with a 12.9% positivity rate yesterday. The numbers are expected to continue to climb according to Dr. Manoj Jain, to a predicted peak of 670 new cases a day in November. So we’re not even at the top of a peak in number of cases. We’re on a steady upward climb. Geez, are we still going to be in Phase 2 by the end of the year?

Of course, we could follow the Stable Genius’s advice and get case numbers back down by not doing any testing…

Reminds me, I saw a great meme yesterday: Biden said, “I’ll read my daily briefings,” and the Republicans for Biden replied, “You had us at ‘I’ll read.'”

The Daily Memphian’s Sports Notebook reports that nine new cases of the coronavirus in NBA players were reported this week. Can the Orlando “bubble” really be safe? They have  a new health safety handbook, but several players point out that team rules are broken all the time.

There were people shooting fireworks on Monroe Avenue near Main at 2:15 this morning. Gotta love Downtown on the Fourth…

Graber Gryass brings their acoustic sounds to brunch at Loflin Yard today noon to 3.

Today’s the final day of the Quintessential Summer Celebration on the river.

Yolanda Harper’s Double Entendre plays Westy’s today 2 to 3.

A word of advice: If you go out to a bar today and plan to order a muddled drink, first look and see how the muddle is stored behind the bar when not in use. The reason I say this is that the fruit flies are the worst I have ever seen them. You don’t want your drink muddled with a tool which has been crawled on by 20 fruit flies.

Also, if you go out to a bar today, don’t expect to see me. Staying home. Sunday Fun Days aren’t fun during a pandemic. Too many people who don’t follow the rules. I have seven books on deck to read and that’ll keep me busy. Back tomorrow with more news.

Saturday update: COVID-19 continues to rage in Downtown Memphis

Happy Fourth!

The COVID-19 news Downtown looks more and more grim every day. I learned yesterday that they plan to keep the Flying Saucer and Flying Fish closed for two months, and have told their staff to file for unemployment. The fact that they closed the Downtown Saucer but not the Cordova one is another indication that Downtown is a coronavirus hotspot right now.

Residents of an apartment building in the Downtown core (not mine) received notices on their doors that several of their neighbors had tested positive for the virus. Yikes!

Longshot has shut down indefinitely, and will likely stay closed until this wave of the virus passes.

The Shelby County COVID-19 task force had a press conference yesterday. It is rare to see them on Friday and even more unusual to see one on what was an effective holiday for most people, but they had a couple of important messages.

First, Health Department Director Dr. Alisa Haushalter said they have received a legal opinion that they can enforce mandatory masking. In light of surging numbers, they have chosen to do so at this time. Read the health directive. You have to wear a mask when in public in Shelby County except

  • If you’re under age 2
  • If you have a legit medical reason not to wear one
  • When you’re outdoors, unless in a situation where proper social distancing is not possible
  • When in a vehicle, other than for hire
  • When at work, and you have your own room
  • When at a place of worship
  • When eating or drinking at a restaurant or a bar

That brings me to my next point… Dr. Haushalter said that among the causes in the spike of cases are situations that provide for social interaction, such as bars. She also noted that when alcohol is consumed, it’s easy to forget the COVID-19 recommendations. Therefore, next week, the task force will look at restrictions on bars. It’s not clear if that means minor restrictions, like banning seating at bar areas, or more severe, like closing bars altogether for a while.

As someone who goes out to bars regularly, I am going to state an opinion that may surprise some people. I would TOTALLY support closing the bars. Not only for health and safety reasons, but for the same reason a teacher takes away her entire class’s recess because five or six kids won’t stop misbehaving. There are a lot of knuckleheads out there who just don’t take the COVID-19 restrictions seriously, and they make it dangerous for those of us who try to play by the rules as much as possible… and they make it dangerous for bar employees too. The only way to get them to behave is to take their toys away for a while.

If the task force does not choose to go as far as closing the bars, I still like the idea of requiring bars to have a doorman or host at all times they are open. Have the host either direct people to seats, or if none are available, putting them on a waiting list. That would prevent people from barging right in without masks, and walking right up to the bar. To me that seems like a much more effective solution than taking away bar seating.

If the Health Department wants to get a real look at what goes on in bars, I suggest they visit areas where several bars are within walking distance of each other between 3 PM and 6 PM Sunday. That would provide them with a more accurate look at the problems than sending a code enforcement crew out at 1:30 on a Tuesday afternoon. I think they would also quickly understand why I have decided not to go out on Sundays for the foreseeable future.

Funny story: Last night I dreamed that I had a work-related meeting at the Health Department. I brought along a baseball and asked Dr. Haushalter and county health officer Dr. Bruce Randolph to sign it. A third doctor signed it too but I can’t remember his name. You da real MVPs!

There was one piece of positive news yesterday. Two bartenders at Bardog, Melissa and Dani, had their COVID-19 tests come back negative, and they got the bar open for happy hour yesterday. It’s not yet known if or when they will open today. The opening was several days earlier than expected, and my check-in on Facebook got some of the local activists questioning their decision. I have known Aldo for 12 years, and I can tell you this: He is not someone who puts profits before people. If he thought there was a reasonable chance opening could infect customers, he would have stayed closed.

I’ve been told that Elite Total Health offers both deep-nose swab and blood tests for COVID-19. The advantage of the blood test is that it checks for antibodies, so not only do you find out whether you have the virus currently, but whether or not you have had the virus.

He who goes forth on the Fourth with a fifth… is livin’ life right. Go see my friends at Downtown Wines & Liquors at Madison and Main for all your alcohol needs.

I want to close this post with a quote I came up with thirteen or fourteen years ago.

There are two kinds of people in Downtown Memphis: friends you have, and friends you haven’t met yet.

As you celebrate the Fourth today however you see fit, I invite you to see it that way. See not strangers, but friends you haven’t met yet; and take the same steps (masking, social distancing, hand washing) to keep them safe as you would for your friends you already have.

I’ll be at Blind Bear at 11, unless I get word that Bardog will open for brunch. My plan is to go home before the sun sets. I am not interested in being out at the bars when the knuckleheads start to come in, and I am not interested in playing “fireworks or gunshots.” Back tomorrow, probably with more depressing coronavirus news. There may be multiple posts tomorrow since I won’t be going out.


Friday update: Now the Saucer and the Fish are temporarily closed

Following yesterday’s notice that the Aldo family of restaurants – Bardog, Slider Inn (both), Aldo’s Pizza Pies (both), and Momma’s – were temporarily closing due to a case of COVID-19 in an employee, the Flying Saucer and the Flying Fish  have announced they will go on a temporary hiatus. Someone commented, asking if a COVID-19 case had been discovered among their employees, and they said no, they’re just playing it safe. If you can’t survive the weekend without your Saucer fix, the Cordova location is still open.

Folks, this is getting real serious. I have heard several times this week that Downtown is currently considered a “hotspot” for the coronavirus. Again, I’m not going to advise you not to go out (with one exception, see below), but you need to be very careful, not only to protect yourself, but to protect those in your inner circle, friends and family who could catch the virus from you if you had it. I’m going to channel my inner Dr. Bruce Randolph (county health officer) here and list some reminders:

First of all, wash your fucking hands. (Okay, I doubt Dr. Randolph would put it that way.) Yesterday there were people doing their business in the men’s room and then walking out without washing hands. It is startling that people can be that inconsiderate during a pandemic. And “well, I squirted hand sanitizer on my hands after I got back to the table” doesn’t fly as an excuse. People have to touch the bathroom door handle after you. Show some thought for others.

Secondly, understand the way the virus works. You can have it for up to a week before you develop symptoms, yet during that week you are still capable of transmitting it to other people. That is why you need to wash your hands and do the next two things I talk about.

Third, wear a mask. If you go to a restaurant or bar, it needs to be on any time your butt  is not in a seat. That includes when you enter, when you get up to use the restroom, when you walk outside to smoke, if you walk to another table to say hello. Even if you personally think the mask is useless, the Health Department doesn’t, and it’s the law. The venues you visit can get in big trouble if you don’t follow the mask ordinance, with penalties all the way up to being shut down. If you have favorite bars that you love, please do your part to ensure they remain open.

Fourth, distance yourselves the best you can. The official CDC opinion is that you should maintain six feet of distance from everyone not in your household. Personally, I think that goes a bit far. I don’t see anything wrong with pulling up a bar stool with a close friend or two, as long as you have six feet of distance between yourselves and other groups. I don’t see anything wrong with being at a table with up to five of your friends, as long as your table is distanced from other tables.

My fifth and final recommendation is based on personal observation, and it’s going to piss off some of my friends in the service industry, but I don’t care. I strongly recommend that you avoid bars in the Downtown core on Sunday. The past two Sundays I have seen groups of 8 to 10 people roving from bar to bar, walking right in and right up to the bar, maskless, crowding people who are properly seated there. I’m talking, many groups doing this. The employees tried as best they could to make them follow the rules but it’s hard to control customers. If you must get your drank on in the Downtown core on Sunday, I recommend doing it early, say, before 2 PM, as these groups don’t seem to be morning people.

Apologies for sounding like a member of the COVID-19 task force, or worse, Becky from Twitter who thinks we should’ve stayed in lockdown until August 1. I do it because I want to stress to you that COVID-19 is no longer some abstract thing that they talk about on CNN. It is here. It is in the Downtown community. It is common for Shelby County to have 200-300 new cases per day and sometimes pushing 400. The positivity rate many days this past week has been around 12% which is frightening. Please take care of not only yourselves, not only your family and friends, but everyone in the community.

And for fuck’s sake, don’t throw a COVID party like some college students in Alabama did.

People have been asking if there is a place Downtown where you can get a COVID-19 test. Yes. It’s not a free test, but Elite Total Health at Main and MLK does them. You get your results next day, rather than 3-4 days later, minimizing the time you have to isolate following your test. Also you don’t spend hours in line in your car, as you would for a free test (some people compare the experience to the old days of yearly car inspections). I have never availed myself of the services at Elite, but I know the folks there personally. They are super nice and professional and part of the Downtown community.

Former presidential candidate Herman Cain is hospitalized in Atlanta for COVID-19. Remember him? Mr. 9-9-9? Despite the fact that he’s a complete wack job, I wish Mr. Cain a speedy recovery. I don’t wish suffering upon any human being.

Waaaait a minute, I need to stop short of using a blanket word like “any.” If Donald Trump caught the coronavirus I’d be awfully tempted to root for the virus.

From WMC Action News 5: A. Schwab’s resilience prevails through pandemic. If you have never visited the “dry goods” store on Beale Street, founded in 1876, you are missing out on a shopping experience that is part of the soul of Memphis. It’d be a fun thing for you to do this weekend.

The Millennium Tour, scheduled for March 2020 at FedExForum, has been rescheduled for May 15. 2021. Tickets and meet and greet passes already purchased will be honored on the new date.

All right, let’s step away from all this COVID crap and move on to a piece of actual good news. Now that the schedule of NBA “seeding” games has been released, FiveThirtyEight updated its season predictions, and the Grizzlies have moved up. Due to time for players to recover from injuries, the Grizzlies’ playoff chances went up from 15% to 37%. Perhaps their biggest threat to a playoff spot, the New Orleans Pelicans, got 15% shaved off their playoff probability.

Heading out to the Blind Bear at 11. By the way, I want to extend huge props to the owner, Jeannette, who hired a doorman to work the busy hours. That’ll make sure no one makes it to the bar without a mask. Robert is one of the most level-headed guys I know and he’s a great poker player too.

That’s it. Holiday weekends are usually not big for Downtown news, but I’ll be back tomorrow if there’s any to report.

Bardog, Slider Inn, Aldo’s Pizza, Momma’s temporarily closed

Packed House Productions, the company that runs what most of us locals think of as “the Aldo family of restaurants,” released the following statement this morning.

To Our Friends & Family,

Packed House Productions (PHP) restaurant and bar group – consisting of Aldo’s Pizza Pies, Bardog Tavern, Slider Inn, and Momma’s – learned on Wednesday, July 1, that an employee tested positive for COVID-19.

This employee does not work at any one specific establishment but does appear and has a presence at all of them at various times. The individual is not exhibiting any symptoms, is not a member of the customer-facing wait staff or kitchen crew, and has subsequently begun quarantining. Out of an abundance of caution and commitment to doing the right thing concerning our hard-working employees and loyal customer base, we made the decision to shut down all establishments, when, after conducting a cursory contact tracing inquiry, we saw this as a good opportunity to request every employee that works for us to be tested for coronavirus.

What this means for us:

While temporarily inconvenient, we look at this as an attempt to establish some semblance of baseline as we reckon with and navigate this new normal and try to responsibly move forward in a community fashion. In doing so:

– If employees test positive, they will follow recommended guidelines.
– Employees who test negative will return to work.
– Service hours may be modified based on staff availability.
– We will consistently provide socially-distanced, sanitized, and indoor and outdoor dining and drinking, regarding the safety of all as our most important concern.

What this means for you:

When we re-open, our businesses will persist – as we have done since the beginning of this pandemic – in being industry leaders that provide safe and healthy environments for all employees and customers.

Precautions set in place for both customers and staff will continue to include (but are not limited to):

– Temperature checks upon entry
– Masks required to be worn properly by staff at all times and by customers upon entry and while navigating the premises
– Hand washing/sanitizing between each guest interaction; regular staff inspections
– Non-communal table items, including QR menu codes, personalized condiments, and more
– Enforcing social distancing
– Sanitation stations

Fortunately, our industry has always been predicated on high standards of sanitation and cleanliness, and you’ve always trusted us with your health. You know we’re not going to start letting you down now. Please stay tuned to our social media channels for the most up-to-date information regarding our reopenings.

We can’t thank you enough for being faithful and look forward to meeting up soon for that drink or pizza, as we have so many times before.

– Your pals at PHP

Much love to everyone who works at any of the affected locations. I have no doubt precautions will be put in place to ensure employee and customer safety when they reopen.

I’ve heard through the grapevine that another Downtown business, not part of the PHP group, has also closed temporarily due to a positive COVID-19 test; however, I have not been by the business nor spoken to the owner to confirm its closure, so for now I will decline to name the business.

Everyone BE SAFE if you go out this weekend.