When can my favorite Washington bar reopen? Well, that depends on how they operate

click to enlarge When your favorite bar will be able to reopen largely depends on how they operate, but many will be able to open with restrictions in the second phase of Washington's reopening plan. - HECTOR AIZON PHOTO
Hector Aizon photo
When your favorite bar will be able to reopen largely depends on how they operate, but many will be able to open with restrictions in the second phase of Washington's reopening plan.
When Washington Gov. Jay Inslee first announced the four phases of reopening the state from shutdowns meant to slow the spread of COVID-19, it didn't look like bars would be able to reopen until the third phase.

The thing is, Washington doesn't issue just bar licenses, says Brian Smith, spokesman for the Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB). It licenses, among other things, restaurants that sell liquor and food, taverns that only sell beer and wine, wineries, distilleries, breweries, private clubs and nightclubs which can sell beer, wine and liquor without needing to serve food like a restaurant.

All the different versions of alcohol-serving establishments come with their own guidelines. Soon after that first announcement, the LCB worked with the governor's office to establish an outline of which food and beverage establishments could start reopening at a limited capacity in phase 2, and which would have to wait until later.


During phase 2, which could begin soon for Spokane (the county applied to move to that phase on Wednesday), here are the types of food and beverage places that could open at 50 percent capacity, with distanced seating, tables of no more than five people, no seating at the bar top, and other rules that the state laid out:
  • Restaurants
  • Taverns
  • Private clubs
  • Caterers for home delivery
  • Golf courses
  • Snack bars and spas
  • Tasting rooms
  • Breweries, wineries, and distilleries
  • Other dine-in venues

Phase 3 includes all those who opened during phase 2, plus they can open bar tops at 25 percent of usual seating for those who are 21+, plus:
  • Restaurants (can move to <75% capacity, table size no larger than 10)
  • Caterers for small events (limited to 50 people)
  • Movie theaters (<50% capacity)
  • Nonprofit arts (limited to 50 people)
  • Special occasions (limited to 50 people)
  • Banquet permits (limited to 50 people)

Then phase 4 starts a 30-day window to withdraw the special allowances the LCB has made during the shutdowns, plus allows openings for:
  • Nightclubs
  • Sports/entertainment facilities
  • Special occasions (over 50 people)

During the shutdowns, the LCB worked to expand the sales of to-go spirits, wine and beer, and even pre-made cocktails, which had never been done before.

Restaurants with separate dining areas for minors and those who are 21+ will be allowed to open the 21+ space to minors to comply with the distancing requirements of the second and third phases. Minors still may not be seated at the bar top area.

Once the final phase starts, those more lenient rules will start to sunset.

Taverns, which only sell beer and wine, may open (per usual setup) only to those 21+ during phase 2, and should follow the distancing guidelines.


Nightclubs on the other hand, which also serve hard alcohol, won't be able to open until the final phase.

LCB enforcement officers explained the differences like this:

Nightclubs are similar to taverns, however taverns sell only beer and wine, while nightclubs can sell spirits.
  • Restaurants with spirits must sell complete meals
  • Full meal requirements are not present for nightclubs
  • Nightclubs are typically larger venues that incorporate entertainment and larger crowds.

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About The Author

Samantha Wohlfeil

Samantha Wohlfeil covers the environment, rural communities and cultural issues for the Inlander. Since joining the paper in 2017, she's reported how the weeks after getting out of prison can be deadly, how some terminally ill Eastern Washington patients have struggled to access lethal medication, and other sensitive...