The neon sign at Present Company is something of an icon in Houston: "It's not ... yesterday ... anymore ..."
Few people probably recognize it as the opening lyrics to the 1977 Talking Heads song "New Feeling," but for those who visited the popular Montrose bar over Memorial Day weekend, its message was as true as ever. The bar was back open, and yesterday—as in the last two months, when every bar in Houston was closed because of the spread of COVID-19—was nothing but a memory.
That's because Gov. Greg Abbott announced an executive order last week that permitted bars to re-open starting last Friday, May 22, or the first day of Memorial Day weekend. Those establishments are only allowed to have 25 percent of a space's regular capacity filled by safely socially distanced patrons right now. There are other guidelines as well that bars are supposed to be adhering to as they begin to reopen: Dancing and close socialization are discouraged, customers should remain seated at tables, and parties should maintain at least six feet of distance from other parties.
But per reports from over the weekend, people didn't adhere to these guidelines.
The most talked-about scene was at Clé, the popular Midtown club with a pool and, as a result, frequent weekend pool parties. Over Memorial Day weekend, Clé hosted a Saturday afternoon party titled "Wet Dreams" and a Sunday afternoon party in its Summer Sessions series. Instagram videos and photos from multiple accounts showing people packed together around and inside the pool—and not wearing face masks—got significant mileage nationwide.
We requested comment from Clé Group, which operates the club.
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A real journalist would tell us that these people, probably mostly under 35, have an exeremely low chance of dying from COVID. Someone is more likely to die from drowning, overdosing, or driving to and from the party than by COVID. clehouston #clehouston #memorialdayhouston
However, while Clé was one of the highest-profile (and most exposed) example of overcrowding at a local bar or restaurant, other establishments in and around the city reportedly were the scene of similar violations. According to this Houston Chronicle report, there were more than 250 complaints lodged to Mayor Sylvester Turner over the three-day weekend of people violating occupancy rules.
Here's the thing: That's too many complaints. And the crowds at Clé? That's just horrible.
Look, I know it's hard—especially when you're young, not married and without children, and socially active—to be denied the opportunity to hang out in bars and clubs. And yeah, Memorial Day without people around you and drinks flowing and music pumping? It's not preferable. I get it.
My job is to eat and drink from restaurants and bars, then to write about it all. So, for the most part, I rely on the hospitality industry to be running to do my job. I'm glad the industry is up, as much as it is, and I applaud those operators acting carefully and safely through this pandemic.
If you follow my Instagram, you've seen me order a decent amount of takeout, but you also may notice that I haven't been inside a restaurant or bar. That's my choice. To me, it's not worth going out and potentially contracting this stuff and spreading it to my family or anyone else unwittingly. I've been making decisions like this since it first became clear the virus had arrived in Houston back in March, and I'm happy with my choice, happy that my employer has my back, happy that I'm reducing my risk.
I'm not telling you to avoid going in a bar or restaurant, or to avoid sitting on a patio. On the contrary: You should do what's most comfortable for you, and some findings indicate that sitting outdoors is actually much safer than being inside, so consider that when you do hit up your favorite eatery or watering hole in the coming days and weeks. But it's proven that face masks help reduce spread, so consider wearing one when in public. It's also proven that by keeping a safe distance from people, again, the spread is reduced. The scene at Clé? That's the exact opposite of what all the guidelines advise.
I drove around and scanned through a bunch of other popular bars to see how those scenes looked over the weekend. For the most part, I saw people keeping safe distances, though with few to no face masks. (Since I mentioned Present Company at the top of this piece, I'll note that the scene there seemed to be pretty safe. That's great!)
The more people disregard the rules and risk getting sick, the higher the possibility that COVID-19 spreads further. Plus, the higher the possibility that these bars and restaurants close again. That means more lost jobs, more waiting, more strife.
Do what feels comfortable for you, but be safe. Please, just be safe, because while it's not yesterday anymore, I honestly have no freaking clue what tomorrow's going to bring.