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A view of the bar at The Doctor’s Office on Capitol Hill.
The Doctor’s Office now requires guests to provide proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID test that was taken within 48 hours.
The Doctor’s Office

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No Vax, No Service: More Seattle Bars Institute Stricter Requirements for Entry

The number of venues requiring proof of vaccinations among guests is growing — but it’s still relatively small in the absence of more forceful public policy

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When intimate Capitol Hill cocktail den the Doctor’s Office announced it would soon require proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID test for entry, the bar’s post on Instagram noted that owner Dr. Matthew Powell “has clearly run out of fucks to give.”

As a working medical professional, Dr. Powell has an especially close perspective on the impacts of COVID, and the extra level of precaution for him seemed essential. “The breaking point for me personally was having a patient whose immune system is so limited by her leukemia that she got COVID last year, got vaccinated this year, and yet still caught it again and had to be hospitalized for it,” he says. “Hearing the exhaustion and frustration in her weakened voice when she said ‘I did everything I was supposed to’ stays with me.”

Powell’s bar joins a growing list of Seattle dining and drinking establishments requiring vaccination IDs (or recent negative tests), or at least reinstating more stringent mask mandates again as the spread of the extremely contagious delta variant continues. As the Seattle Times reported, at least nine bars had to close temporarily last weekend due to COVID cases or potential exposures, including Unicorn, Jupiter, Rumba, and Shorty’s, highlighting the ever-encroaching pandemic dangers in the hospitality industry.

Even before the slate of closures, restaurants such as Addo in Ballard and Archipelago in Hillman City decided that proof of vaccination would be necessary to reopen for indoor dining. They’re joined by several others with similar policies, including Columbia City’s Off Alley, Ballard brunch destination Watson’s Counter, and popular Capitol Hill venues Queer/Bar, Liberty Bar, CC Attle’s, the Roanoke, and Linda’s Tavern. At least a dozen Seattle restaurants and bars now require vaccinations for guests, and large local event organizers — such as PAX West — seem to be getting on board as well. “The priority has always been keeping the team safe so this means we either open with this restriction or not at all,” says Watson’s Counter owner James Lim. “Up until now we’ve been providing service at the door with no entry at all; this then is just the next logical step forward.”

While the number of bars and restaurants enacting tighter COVID restrictions is still relatively small, there are signs of momentum building for wider adoption across the U.S. In San Francisco, a coalition of nearly 500 bar owners is considering a move that would require vaccinations for entry on a volunteer basis for businesses, and in New York, several prominent restaurants have undertaken such policies. Washington D.C. now once again requires all patrons, regardless of vaccination, to wear masks inside.

“I think what’s happening in San Francisco is a thoughtful solution,” says Chris Elford, co-owner of Trade Winds Tavern and Navy Strength, both of which require proof of vaccination for guests to be unmasked indoors (unvaccinated patrons can still sit outside). “I think it’s going to happen here and in many other cities. For me, it is 100 percent about protecting our staff and their livelihood and our own livelihood.” Fellow Belltown bar Roquette is also requiring vaccination proof for guests, and owner Erik Hakkinen says he made that decision based on what the San Francisco bars were doing: “Hopefully it won’t have to be too long, but we’re prepared to maintain the requirement until infection rates drop down again.”

Still, the piecemeal aspect of requiring vaccines for entry into bars and restaurants (or even mask-wearing) recalls the early days of the pandemic, before lockdowns, when business owners were left mainly to their own devices to police public health precautions. On Wednesday, July 28, Gov. Jay Inslee said he wanted Washingtonians to “consider” wearing masks in indoor settings, particularly in areas where vaccination rates are low, echoing a similar recommendation from King County health officer Dr. Jeffrey Duchin. Though Inslee left the door open to more forceful measures down the road, the current non-legally binding guidance seems easy to ignore among those who are most stridently opposed to COVID restrictions.

There’s hope that the vaccination rates locally will continue to climb, blunting the impact from the delta variant (76 percent of residents 16 and older in King County have completed their vaccine series to date). Even Dr. Duchin noted recently that the level of vaccination achieved in the county will likely protect against a severe outbreak, and he doesn’t think that more stringent mandates would be necessary.

But in the meantime, it seems to fall on restaurants once again to decide on their own what’s necessary to protect staff and guests, hoping that others will understand. On that front, Dr. Powell says that the response to the new policy at the Doctor’s Office has been “overwhelmingly positive” and adds, ”I think people in our community, the vast majority of whom are vaccinated, feel the same frustration that cases are on the rise again and are threatening the gains we’ve made in this fight.”