Now’s a great time to make sure you have a photo of your vaccine card loaded onto your phone if you’re planning on eating or drinking inside a bar or restaurant (because why are these cards too big to fit in a wallet?!). With the rise of the Delta variant, a growing number of Portland bars and restaurants are requiring proof of vaccination in order to eat or drink indoors. Only a handful of establishments have implemented these policies so far, so we reached out to some of those owners to share their experiences—including the positive and negative feedback they’ve received.
Toki, the new restaurant from Peter Cho and Sun Young Park of Han Oak fame, was one of the earliest restaurants in Portland to institute a vaccination requirement. Back in late May, when the restaurant opened its dining room for the first time in addition to its existing takeout and sidewalk dining service, staff voted to require proof of vaccination in order to eat indoors. Even after Oregon’s coronavirus restrictions were largely lifted on June 30, the staff at Han Oak continued to check vaccine cards for those who wished to eat inside. Their indoor dining policy is reiterated in many of their Instagram posts, as well as on their website.
“It was just the word spreading about the Delta variant and numbers going up in other areas of the world. And so we just felt like it was better that if we're all vaccinated, we're gonna ask that guests be vaccinated as well,” says Cho.
Cho says he doesn’t pay much attention to online review sites like Yelp, but so far, he hasn’t received much negative feedback about the policy. “There hasn't been too much pushback other than ‘Sorry, we don't have our cards.’ And we say, ‘Well, without proof, we have plenty of seating on the sidewalk, which is open to everybody,’” Cho says. “Most of the time, they just leave.”
In fact, most of the feedback he’s received has been positive. “For the most part, a lot of people are happy that we’re doing it. They feel safer at least knowing that we’re checking.”
Positive feedback hasn’t been the case for everyone—in fact, one bar we reached out to for this story declined to comment, citing threats they’d received. But as more bars consider implementing this policy, some are deciding to go with the strength-in-numbers approach: a “Vaxx Coalition” of bars, as previously reported by Willamette Week, who plan to collectively announce their vaccination requirements next week in a show of solidarity.
Daniel Shoemaker, owner of Teardrop Lounge in the Pearl, has become the de facto spokesperson for this coalition. His bar had been at full capacity with no mask requirements following Oregon’s reopening, but last week, he and his staff began to reevaluate their policies after hearing about the San Francisco Bar Owner Alliance, which last week asked the more than 300 bars it represents to begin requiring proof of vaccination for entry indoors.
Shoemaker’s reaction to that news: “It was like, ‘That’s solidarity. That’s what a bar community looks like, that’s how you do this—you send a massive word to the community at large that says, ‘We are exposed. We are taking risks every day. This is the bare minimum of what we can ask right now,’” he says.
Ensuring that all of the staff has been vaccinated hasn’t been an issue at Teardrop Lounge, says Shoemaker. “The primary hiring requirement here is empathy,” he says. “That’s something I can’t teach, but that is an instinct to curate the best experience for the guest. And I find that those that have empathy want to get vaccinated because they want to take care of the wellbeing of those around them.”
Teardrop Lounge announced on Tuesday via its newsletter that it would require proof of vaccination to drink indoors. They’ll also accept a negative COVID test that’s less than 72 hours old, says Shoemaker. So far, they’ve received an overwhelmingly positive response, with several exceptions.
“I got a few really nasty emails from folks. I know I'm preparing for it because I have many friends in the bar industry in San Francisco, and they’ve received it, and they’re like, ‘Just don’t look. Disable your Yelp reviews for a while.’ A friend was accused of medical apartheid on the first day that they launched this [policy],” Shoemaker says.
Shoemaker is currently in contact with about twelve other Portland bar owners who are on board as part of the coalition. The coalition’s goal, at this point, is to collectively announce themselves on a list via social media early next week in a show of solidarity. He’s hoping to gather at least fifteen bars in total—those interested in joining the list can contact him via email at [email protected].
Some bars are also implementing in-between measures. Hey Love, which closed back in March 2020 and didn’t reopen until this June, announced two days ago via Instagram that they would require proof of vaccination to sit at one of their twelve bar seats, which they just opened this week. Those who cannot provide proof of vaccination can sit at one of the bar’s fifteen or so indoor tables, which have a QR code ordering system in place. The idea behind requiring vaccination proof for the bar seats, says owner Aaron Hall, is to protect staff.
“If guests are going to be closer to their space, they're there to work, they're there to serve the community and our guests, and they're there in the space for longer periods of time. So it adds hopefully an extra layer of protection for the staff. It's a privilege to sit at the bar, and we hadn’t had bar seating until this week and so it seemed like a good time to implement that,” he says.
Meanwhile, some restaurant and bar owners, like Cho, are hoping for further measures from the state—like an official vaccine passport—and are beginning to consider ending indoor dining entirely.
“I think we're gonna start discussing how we feel about indoor dining at all. Our staff are pretty open about how they feel and we generally like to vote,” Cho says. “We want to make sure everybody's comfortable but right now, I feel like if there is another surge, we're gonna probably just close indoor dining.”