The Tiger Bar in June Lake was temporarily closed on June 27 due to a lack of compliance regarding COVID-19 protocols.
The order came from Mono County Health Officer Thomas Boo.
“It is very hard to social distance in a bar. I can’t be watching what happens 24/7,” said Tiger Bar owner Jill Wallentine. “What I think happened is people got more drinks in them and my bartenders weren’t enforcing it.”
“It does feel like Mono County used us as an example,” Wallentine added.
Tiger Bar was shut down due to a number of anonymous complaints that were lodged with Mono County. “In the case of the Tiger Bar, it started some weeks ago with complaints about crowding/lack of distancing and failure of staff to wear face coverings,” said Boo in an email to The Sheet.
According to Boo, Louis Molina, Director of Environmental Health, went to Tiger Bar and informed management of the protocols. Tiger Bar confirmed it would comply. Then another complaint came in. “[This] prompted my Friday evening visit. I did not speak with management during my visit, I simply observed and confirmed the violations. Then we had a Saturday morning Zoom meeting with county attorneys to decide what to do. The Sheriff’s Department served the closure order later that afternoon.”
Wallentine told The Sheet, “I can’t be there all the time. When I leave, I don’t know exactly what happens.”
After multiple conversations with members of the June Lake Community, there were some questions about who complained. One person, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Sheet, “Look at who has been 86’ed from Tiger Bar and you might have a pretty good idea of who complained.”
Wallentine acknowledged this, “There are people who are extremely jealous of the business that Tiger Bar does.”
Justin Walsh, owner of June Lake Brewing, told The Sheet, “I can’t say I visibly saw any intentional flaunting of the rules. There was likely lax in the follow through. But I have seen that at a number of places.”
This was the extent to which Walsh would comment on the closure of Tiger Bar as he told The Sheet, “I am not a doctor and I am not a scientist. I am basically a janitor.”
Walsh also pointed out the distinction between bars and breweries noting, “Nearly 80% of what I do is cleaning anyways.”
Which is why Walsh was all over the protocols necessary. “We have signs for everything. And they are everywhere. We even have a sign that says ‘this is a sign,’” said Walsh.
“The main thing is to keep people safe. We are attempting to go above and beyond,” said Walsh when asked of the safety measures June Lake Brewing has put in place.
The Brewery has transitioned to only outdoor seating. Only employees are permitted to enter the establishment. They are using a new system that ensures 0 contact when transactions are made. No cash. And this was just the beginning. Walsh rattled off measure after measure that the Brewery was conducting in order to stay safe.
Different businesses have different models in this new normal.
June Pie Pizza, owned by Jamie Schectman, has switched up the entire operation to be takeout only. The Pizza joint is only a couple doors down from Tiger Bar and now has a pizza slot, similar to a slot that a bank teller uses, to limit the transmission rate as much as possible. The whole business model was switched up according to Schectman. “[Tiger Bar closing] was an eye-opener for all of us. It motivates me to practice the proper protocols,” said Schectman.
On Saturday, three police officers served Tiger Bar with papers to temporarily close the establishment.
By Monday morning, Wallentine had already submitted paperwork to Mono County regarding terms of opening. That afternoon, Wallentine told The Sheet that she is looking to open up as quickly as possible.
On Tuesday, Boo told The Sheet, “Louis (Molina) has followed up with them today I believe, and the plan was to also ask them to certify in writing, again, as to their intentions to follow all protocols pertaining to COVID-19 business/restaurant/bar guidance… They should be able to reopen very soon, within days.”
On Thursday, The Sheet called Wallentine one more time to check on the progress. Turns out, the Tiger Bar is open again.
Wallentine, in her letter confirming what they were going to do, told Mono County Health that they were going to put all of the liquor and the barstools downstairs. Beer and wine could be consumed only if food was also purchased.
Wallentine told The Sheet that even Molina was surprised at how serious she was taking the allegations, “If people are getting liquored up there is no way they are going to social distance. I don’t think [the measures taken] are some great thing I did. It is my job.”
On Tuesday June 30, Mono County issued a modified order for operating bars during the pandemic. The correlation between Tiger Bar’s modified orders and the Counties modified orders is apparent.
But the reason for the Tuesday press release wasn’t directly related to Mono County. Across the state, 19 counties have been ordered by Governor Gavin Newsom to close down bars, restaurants, wineries, movie theaters, family entertainment venues, zoos, museums and cardrooms.
Contact tracing is still in its early stages and therefore coming to conclusions is hard. What is apparent is that one of the most common places to contract COVID-19 is at a bar. In the Press Release Boo was quoted as saying, “Bars are considered high risk environments for Coronavirus transmission as physical distancing is challenging, face coverings are allowed to be removed while seated, and alcohol consumption tends to disinhibit people and impair judgment which may further increase risk. Bars also tend to be loud, making people increase their speaking volume which can expel more virus potentially infecting others.”
“Now we have signs everywhere. To enter the establishment you need a mask. To leave, you need a mask. If you go to the bathroom you have to wear a mask,” said Wallentine, “I have to feel better about how we are handling this.”
Right now, Wallentine feels “ok.” If the County stays open and Tiger Bar continues its business, that might improve. But a week off during one of the busiest times of the year doesn’t feel too good, pandemic or not.