Building hype for a completely new venture isn’t easy. But Lariat Bar — which leans into a playful professional wrestling theme — had still managed to gain some momentum earlier this year. The co-owners landed a prime spot in White Center, raised more than double the money they set as a goal for a Kickstarter campaign, and had nearly 80 percent of the bar’s buildout completed.
But, as was the case for most everything in Seattle’s food and drink scene, Lariat Bar’s plans came to an abrupt halt in mid-March as the COVID-19 outbreak grew. Though the bar wasn’t scheduled to debut until later this spring, it’s unclear when, or if, bars will be allowed to open after the state’s mandated stay-at-home order is lifted. And so the project remains in limbo.
“We put in everything we have into the place from our personal savings,” says co-owner Jorge Perez. “Now we don’t know what the landscape is going to look like. It’s nerve wracking.”
Lariat Bar’s predicament highlights complications for restaurants and bars that were in the works right before the current crisis hit. Perez says he and his partners applied for a Small Business Administration loan, but that program has been wracked with issues when it comes to the hospitality industry, and has already run out of funds. Businesses that aren’t actually in business yet may find it difficult to apply in the first place. “They want proof of income, and we’re not there yet,” Perez says of the process.
It’s also tough to know exactly what bars will need to do to comply with social distancing measures if and when they get the green light to reopen. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has said that the state would need to see a sustained decline in new COVID-19 cases before any stay-at-home restrictions are lifted, and that has not happened yet. And even by federal guidelines, “phase one” of any reopening process for small businesses mentions that bars should stay closed. In “phase two,” the government notes that bars should have “diminished standing-room occupancy.”
Perez says he and his partners have discussed what opening with a modified occupancy might look like, along with the possibility of closing down certain sections of the bar in the 2,200 square-foot space (there’s a cordoned off ring area), and making sure employees have personal protective equipment. If there is an advantage of being in a pre-opening phase right now, it’s that Lariat Bar can plan ahead a bit, and adjust its plans to comply with whatever the new realities of bars will be. It helps that the landlord has been understanding so far about rent, giving the co-owners some relief and time to figure things out.
But takeout and delivery will not be in the works (there’s no kitchen at Lariat Bar; the menu just has some light snacks, such as nachos, hot dogs, and pretzels). And now that the WWE has come under fire for continuing to operate in Florida as an “essential business” during the pandemic, the co-owners may look at how much to emphasize that pro wrestling organization. Perez says the bar will likely focus on supporting more local groups like Without a Cause (WAC) in Everett, Washington.
Despite all these challenges, the owners of Lariat Bar hold out hope that the show can go on, eventually. “We’ve already put in so much of our own time, effort, and money,” says Perez. “So there’s no way we’re going to give up.”