Update: Governor Charlie Baker announced Sunday night that all restaurants and bars in Massachusetts would be limited to only takeout and delivery starting Tuesday.
Bars and restaurants voluntarily shut down in South Boston on Sunday after crowds flocking to the businesses this weekend raised concern that residents weren’t practicing safe social distancing amid the coronavirus outbreak.
The announcement came amid broader calls around the Boston area and statewide to keep pubs and restaurants closed until the spread of the virus is under control.
Cambridge and Somerville officials were among those calling for the businesses to shut their doors temporarily.
In some Boston neighborhoods, many eating establishments remained open Sunday despite rising concerns. But the drumbeat of virus news had slowed customers to a trickle at some of Boston’s favorite brunch spots. Newbury Street’s noontime crowd was reduced to a fraction of its usual size.
At Trident Booksellers & Cafe, where staff said they had only a quarter of their usual Sunday patrons, about 20 people packed into the bar, leaving tables mostly empty.
General Manager Michael Lemanski said the restaurant’s declining business had become unsustainable over the last few days, and could force it to close its doors for the time being regardless of city mandate.
“If we just have to limp along until we can no longer afford to stay open, then we’ll have to close,” Lemanski said. “And I don’t know if we’ll be able to reopen.”
At the Friendly Toast in Back Bay, however, an hour-long wait had groups of 20-somethings lined up outside.
Waiting patrons said they could only go so far to avoid contracting the virus.
“In my occupation, I’m probably going to be exposed [more] than the average person,” said Raphew Fahm, a pharmacist from Buffalo, N.Y. who was waiting in the line. “I’m taking precautions, but there’s only so much I can do if I have to go to work, right?”
Meanwhile, a photo showing a couple dozen people standing in line outside Broadway bar in South Boston on Saturday afternoon ricocheted around social media, as commenters warned Bostonians were not taking the spread of coronavirus seriously.
It wasn’t immediately clear how crowded bars became on what would normally be a busy weekend in Boston ahead of St. Patrick’s Day on Tuesday, but a spokeswoman for Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, Audrey Coulter, said bars in South Boston voluntarily closed early Saturday night.
And Boston City Councilor Ed Flynn announced bars in South Boston, which he represents, will remain closed Sunday on a voluntary basis.
SB bars & restaurants will be closed today as part of a voluntary agreement. Thank you Mayor Walsh, my fellow SB elected officials, neighbors, Licensing Board, license holders in SB for working w/ us & taking these sound proactive measures to protect the public’s health.— Ed Flynn 愛德華費連 (@EdforBoston) March 15, 2020
In a statement, Kathleen Joyce, chairwoman of the Boston Licensing Board, said a total of 14 establishments in the neighborhood would not be serving for the day “based on the number of patrons in the area on Saturday and health and safety concerns.”
Joyce also cited the “influx of patrons due to the St. Patrick’s Day holiday.”
The statement said Lincoln, Capo, Coppersmith, Loco, Fat Baby, The Junction, The Playwright, Broadway, Roza Lyons, Back Yard, Betty’s, Publico, Stats, Shennanagins, and Cambria Hotel (servicing hotel guests only), would all be closed.
It was not immediately clear if other bars and restaurants in South Boston or other city neighborhoods would also be closed or which, if any, establishments declined to close on Sunday.
Reacting to the news in a television interview with WCVB on Sunday morning, Governor Charlie Baker said “I think the city did the right thing” in encouraging the closures. Baker also added that he hopes Walsh will also shut down bars on St. Patrick’s Day on Tuesday.
On Twitter, officials in Somerville and Cambridge were calling for shutdowns of bars and restaurants Sunday. In a Facebook posting, Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui said she is “RECOMMENDING a shut down of restaurants, bars, and non-essential businesses.”
But she also voiced support for a petition started by Somerville City Councilor Ben Ewen-Campen to pressure Baker into instituting a mandatory shutdown of restaurants, bars, and non-essential businesses across the state.
Somerville Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone also shared the petition, which had over 7,600 signatures as of 4 p.m. Sunday.
Public health officials have urged Massachusetts residents to practice “social distancing” to slow down the spread of the virus, and on Friday, Baker banned gatherings of more than 250 people.
In the WCVB interview, Baker said his administration has “no plans” to institute a overall 14-day quarantine, and he said he was giving towns and cities the flexibility to make decisions about restaurants and bars.
But some worried the desire to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Boston, with its strong Irish identity, would bring out revelers despite the public health concerns.
“As an Irish-American pol from Boston of all places it pains me to say this," tweeted Boston City Councilor Matt O’Malley, "but please don’t go out with groups of friends to bars this St. Patrick’s Day weekend.”
As an Irish-American pol from Boston of all places it pains me to say this: but please don’t go out with groups of friends to bars this St. Patrick’s Day weekend. Support your favorite local pub by ordering take out & buying gift cards for later use. Be safe, be smart, & be kind. https://t.co/1rJOBMFvzj— Matt O'Malley (@MattOMalley) March 15, 2020
The annual St. Patrick’s Day parade, which had been scheduled to take place Sunday, was canceled last week amid mounting concerns about the public health crisis.