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Washington’s Indoor Bar Ban Makes Exception for Those That Serve ‘Reasonable Amount’ of Food

But all other recently-imposed restrictions are still in effect

A dimly-lit bar showcasing gleaming bottles of liquor
Bars can still serve people inside if they have a restaurant license or serve a full food menu.

In the oft-modified rules for Washington’s phased reopening plan during the COVID-19 pandemic, bars seem to get the shorter end of the stick. Recently, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that bars, taverns, breweries, distilleries, and wineries would all need to close for indoor service completely until phase four, even if restaurants could still open at half capacity to seat those who live in the same household. But now that rule has changed somewhat.

In newly-modified guidelines, bars and other drinking-focused establishments can serve people inside at half capacity during phase two and three — as long as they either convert their existing food license to a full restaurant license, or make enough food available on their menu. Specifically, Washington’s rules for indoor seating now state that a “reasonable number” of food items must be present, such as sandwiches, salad, soup, pizza, hamburgers, fry orders, or substantial hors d’oeuvres and appetizers, all made onsite (not by third-party vendors).

There is no specific number of items by design, says Mike Faulk, the governor’s deputy communications director: “The term is intended to give businesses flexibility under the circumstances.”

This rule adjustment mainly applies to bars, taverns, and breweries that didn’t already have a restaurant license (as many in Seattle possess). If an establishment can meet other food requirements, then it can serve some guests inside, provided there’s also table seating and that the bar makes sure that people from different households don’t sit together, as stipulated by Inslee in the recently announced new restaurant restrictions.

The 10 p.m. cutoff for alcohol sales is still in effect, and restaurants and bars can all currently seat people outside in phase two. But this may add some room to maneuver for bars that didn’t have a patio, or felt the new restrictions had been unfair, since some had already added food items to their menus in order to generate more to-go cocktail sales. As for why bars have been subject to more restrictions recently than restaurants, Inslee has said “there’s a social behavior associated with alcohol that’s different than carbohydrates.”