Westport mostly empty on first night of early bar closings in Kansas City

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Last call came before many kids’ bed times Friday night in Kansas City.

Counties all around the metro have or soon will be starting new health orders that cut down bar time in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. Friday was the first night that order went into effect in Kansas City, Jackson County and Wyandotte County. 

The health order is called “Safer at Home.” Whether the usual bar crowd stayed home or attended house parties that health directors also want to avoid is unclear.

But the early closing seemed to change the scene in Westport to one we haven’t seen since the first stay-at-home order at the start of the pandemic. 

There were empty streets and mostly empty bars and restaurants. It’s not ideal for businesses, but for health officials, it’s better than the alternative. With record spread of COVID-19 and late-night crowds seemingly not taking the threat of the virus seriously, bars and restaurants were told to shut down for the night at 10 p.m. 

“I think it’s a good idea to curb the people who have been going to places like Power & Light and other super crowded districts like that really not doing anything to stop the spread of the virus,” said Kenzie Hanigan, dining out in an outdoor seating area in Westport. 

“If the point of lockdown is to prevent COVID spread or flattens the curve, I mean the COVID numbers are higher than ever, right? If you ever are going to do it, I guess it make sense to do it now,” said Jack Walton as he was picking up food. 

Johnson County is allowing its bars and restaurants to stay open until midnight. Clay County and Platte County will start their health orders, including 10 p.m. closings like Kansas City, on Monday.

Each area also has limits on gathering sizes aimed at preventing house parties and other events that spread the virus. Most are capped at 10 people, though Johnson County will allow 50. Church services are exempt from the orders, and most counties allow for residents to apply for waivers to the gathering size limits. 

“I think everyone realizes things can change from day to day, and luckily our staff is prepared and capable to take on those changes,” said Maxx Tittone, Chicken N Pickle’s community and employee engagement specialist.

Chicken N Pickle in North Kansas City has plenty of outdoor space and is working on getting more heaters as winter approaches. They see customers’ habits potentially changing. 

“We always encourage people to come out for Happy Hour from 3-6 and join us. We’ll probably see that rise a little bit. We are staffed accordingly so if you come out with you and your friends, we’ll take care of you,” Tittone said. 

Hanigan, one of the few customers taking advantage of a Westport business’s outdoor seating and the available hours between getting off work and the 10 p.m. closing, thinks all bars might have to adjust to stay afloat.

“I think places like Westport might shift their business model a little bit to be open to places like this with outdoor seating and dinner and drinks and maybe shifting Happy Hours a little bit later as opposed to perpetuating more bar scenes as it has in the past,” she said.

Others like Beer Kitchen and Ale House in the district have decided to go into what they are calling hibernation for the winter, not opening at all. 

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