City, Coronavirus, News

Live music to stay out of Boston restaurants amid pandemic

Live music performers will not be allowed to perform in Boston restaurants until March 22.

House of Blues in Boston, Massachusetts
House of Blues. The City of Boston will not allow musical performances at indoor venues or restaurants until March 22. SOPHIA FLISSLER/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

As Massachusetts entered Phase Three, Step Two of its COVID-19 reopening plan Monday, the City opted for a modified version of the plan, which also bars indoor performance venues and certain indoor recreational activities for an additional three weeks.

Mayor Marty Walsh stated in a press release last Friday that the modified reopening is a result of extra precautions surrounding public health data.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Boston has taken a cautious approach to reopening,” Walsh stated. “We’ve prioritized the health and safety of our residents, and we’ve made decisions based on the latest public health data and metrics. We’ve only moved forward when it’s safe.

Steve Clark, vice president of government affairs at the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, said he believes Boston went ahead with a modified reopening instead of fully moving into the next phase to avoid large social gatherings on St. Patrick’s Day  March 17.  

“St. Patrick’s Day is a gathering holiday and a lot of people get together,” Clark said, “I think that they wanted to avoid the celebratory nature that comes with St. Patrick’s Day.”

Within the restaurant industry, live music venues have been “one of the hardest-hit segments,” Clark said.

“It’s really good that we’re back on a path to get them reopened and there’s a process in place,” he said. “I think there’s optimism on that side of the industry.”

Wally’s Cafe Jazz Club on Massachusetts Avenue was opened in 1947. But since March of last year, it has been closed — the longest in its nearly 75-year history.

“We haven’t been open for a year,” said general manager Frank Poindexter. “Live music is our number-one draw. We’ve been doing it for 70 years.”

Poindexter said Wally’s needs to wait for recommendations from Boston’s Licensing Board and the Entertainment Licensing Department, in addition to the Governor’s approval, before it can reopen.

Nia Grace, owner and operator of Darryl’s Corner Bar and Kitchen in the South End, said her restaurant was hurt financially because live music was such a large draw for customers, and 90 percent of business was done on-site.

“On a numbers standpoint … I think we’re down 70 percent of our revenue,” Grace said. “We had to move to a takeout-only model for a good portion of the pandemic.”

Although Darryl’s Corner Bar and Kitchen held an eight-hour, virtual “music marathon” on Juneteenth, Grace said after the modified reopening is lifted, the restaurant aims to begin booking live acts their first day back.

Clark added that entertainers who perform at restaurant venues have also struggled during the lockdown.

“Think of all the entertainers, whether it’s a band or a comedian or a magician,” Clark said. “I definitely think that that void will be filled, and I think that segment of the economy is itching to get out as well.”

Grace said her restaurant is participating in this season’s Dine Out Boston — a two-week-long event when local restaurants will offer special menu prices from March 14 – 28, meaning the promotional event will coincide with the return of live performances.

“We’re excited to be able to say that during our second week of Dine Out Boston, beginning that Wednesday, we will have live music that will return,” Grace said.

Clark said he believed people will go out to restaurants with live venues despite the pandemic — although it may be a gradual return because current performance regulations still ban singing indoors.

“Entertainment is part of the experience of enjoying your local restaurant or bar,” Clark said. “It’s just a better sense of normalcy.”


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