The restaurants in the greater Cincinnati area welcomed guests on Friday for the first time in nearly two months.
They just couldn’t serve customers inside.
Instead, the guests sat at tables on patios, decks and parking lots. The tables were at least two meters apart.
There was no rush to eat in many places, much like there was no rush to shop when stores reopened on Tuesday. It probably didn’t help that thunderstorms were predicted. But some restaurants did big business with people tired of eating at home and in their cars.
When meal time came – and the clouds cleared – the crowd continued into the evening. Lines formed outside restaurants on Vine Street. Although the earlier threat of thunderstorms caused some to cancel their dinner reservations, there were plenty of other guests downtown taking their places.
“I couldn’t wait to get here and it was taking a long time,” said Michael Copfer. The 50-year-old Milford resident joined a crowd of 150 who were having lunch outside the Silver Spring House restaurant in Symmes Township. Between the open-air veranda and a canopy with tables underneath in a parking lot, the Silver Spring House offers space for 300 people outdoors.
Copfer felt safe to eat there despite the large amount.
“I found the security measures more than adequate,” said Copfer. “I look forward to bringing my family back here tonight or tomorrow.”
In a restaurant, masks are also required for customers
It was the first time people were able to eat at a restaurant since March 15 when Ohio Governor Mike DeWine closed restaurants, except for execution and delivery to help contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.
You won’t be able to eat at an Ohio restaurant until May 21, and you’ll have to distance yourself from other diners as well.
A steady crowd ate lunch along the Ohio River at The Banks, although most restaurants still had tables outside at lunchtime. And there were no lines.
“Take it to the banks,” beamed an electronic billboard near the Great American Ball Park on Joe Nuxhall Way. “Welcome back. Be sure. Be patient.”
Some guests were still a little suspicious. Jeff Hoppe, 35, of Westwood, went to Jefferson Social at The Banks for lunch out of curiosity. He wanted to see if it would be full. There weren’t many people around for lunch. But he doesn’t think that he will be tempted by fate and go out to dinner in the evening.
“I am very concerned,” said Hoppe. “If it stays that way, it will be fine, but it won’t stay that way. More people will come out. Everyone will get sick.”
Masks are required for restaurant staff, but not for guests. Taste of Belgium was one of the few restaurants where diners have to wear a mask when waiting for their table and when they leave. Elsewhere, less than half of the guests wore masks.
Cincinnati’s Mayor dines for lunch and dinner
The Little Miami Brewing Company in Milford took advantage of their large deck along the river. People sat in lounge chairs overlooking the Little Miami River, the chairs in groups of three, the groups far apart.
“I know some people are not there yet, and we understand that,” said co-founder Joe Brenner. “On the other hand, a lot of people are ready to come out and see what is going on.”
Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley had lunch with Jim and Jack on River on River Road. He also had his hair cut on Friday morning and planned to have dinner at Pepp and Dolores in Over-the-Rhine. However, he admitted the “contradiction” of these reopening efforts as the new coronavirus still poses a real health risk.
To support restaurants, the city of Cincinnati has closed 25 streets in downtown and over-the-Rhine, allowing restaurants to have additional outdoor dining spaces.
The city will use a “trial and error” method of reopening stores, Cranley said.
“We want to support restaurants, which means we go to restaurants, provided they can set up tables 6 feet apart. But we don’t want large crowds of people standing next to each other,” said Cranley. “And that’s … not normal. None of this is normal.”
Not many restaurants in OTR were using a closed section of Vine Street for lunch on Friday. Workers outside of Pepp & Dolores were still setting up tents and tables at 12:40 p.m. The street was closed to Pontiac and Taste of Belgium, but no tables had been set up. Nobody ate outside anywhere.
Dinner in Hyde Park “quite busy”
In Hyde Park and Oakley, the restaurant terraces weren’t full, but there were many patrons. Dan Cronican opened the doors of his Keystone Bar and Grill in Hyde Park at 3pm. He described it as “pretty busy” but there were still plenty of tables available.
The restaurant had 45 seats under blue table screens on the front terrace.
“We are excited to see what it will be like if the weather plays along,” said Cronican.
Paul Vanasek, 43, and Jamie Voss, 42, were sitting on Keystone’s terrace around 5:45 p.m. on Friday with their new dog, Memphis. Hyde Park residents said they had been “cooped up” long enough and were looking forward to getting out.
“The numbers I’ve seen at our age and health don’t worry me,” said Vanasek.
Voss works in the restaurant industry and knows the precautionary measures that the company’s employees are taking to stop the spread of the new coronavirus.
“I’m not worried,” she said.
But many other restaurants in Hyde Park had few visitors as meal time approached 6 p.m.
Excitement before the reopening
The anticipation had increased by noon on Friday.
Tents and picnic tables were set up outside restaurants in the greater Cincinnati area on Friday morning. Picnic tables behind Price Hill Chili were six feet apart in the parking lot that led to the restaurant entrance.
Buffalo Wild Wings on Anderson Ferry Road in Westwood had set up a large tent in the parking lot.
One of the restaurants in downtown The Banks, The Holy Grail, tweeted a solemn “WE’RE BACK!”
Alex Triantafilou, Hamilton County’s GOP Chairman replied, “Can’t wait to be down there!”
Slow business for some at lunch
Despite the buzz online, lunch got off to a quiet start for many restaurants.
After employees wiped all surfaces, chairs and tables with disinfectant for hospitals, the MVP Sports Bar and Grill in Deer Park opened their patio to guests at 11 a.m.
There was no rush of customers as the eight patio tables and the bar at 11:30 am still had no customers
The bartender Melinda Marcum didn’t know what to expect when the restaurants reopened.
“Today will be the trial run,” she said. “We’ll see how it goes.”
The owners expected it to resume by dinner.
The E + O Kitchen in Hyde Park had reservations for dinner for the seven tables on the terrace, each of which could seat six to eight guests. They didn’t have a large crowd for lunch.
On the outside deck of the Urban Grill in Newton, guests drank their drinks at evenly spaced tables under a wooden roof. Half an hour after it opened, there wasn’t a large crowd, but manager Betsy Eicher said they expected a large turnout at the end of the day.
“We have a great, loyal customer base who already calls us and says what are the rules, what will happen?” Said Eicher. “We were very interested.”
Enquirer reporters Alex Harrison and Phil Didion contributed to this