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Bar owners adapt to new restrictions, opportunities


The Union at the Strip on September 1, 2020 in Stillwater, Oklahoma

Two weeks after the most recent emergency declaration was announced, three Stillwater bar owners are taking advantage of the option to implement outdoor seating. 


Driving down Washington Street, some may think The Union and Willies Saloon are under construction, but the fences and dividers are actually their latest attempt to promote social distancing. Behind the black fences in front of Willies, customers will find outdoor seating spaced six feet apart.


Mayor William Joyce hopes this opportunity is benefitting bar owners and is working to make this option more permanent.


“We have got an ordinance that we are working on right now for more of a longer term approach that would include some design standards and work for more permanent things like this to be a little nicer and not so temporary looking,” Joyce said.


The third bar that has chosen to add an outdoor seating option is Zannotti's Wine Bar. The bar is located downtown and does not see the large nightly crowds that the bars on Washington Street rely on. The bar’s owner said Zannotti’s has a more steady flow of customers, and saw the declaration as an opportunity.


Owner Drew Williamson said his customers have been excited about the outdoor seating but many do not understand it is currently for 90 days.


“If it weren’t just a temporary 90 day ordinance, we would be excited to invest in a more attractive and level structure for our clientele,” Williamson said.


Javier Cervantes, owner of College Bar and Stonewall, has been updating his outdoor seating at Stonewall but is not interested in moving services outdoors at his College Bar location.


“Unless the street is closed all the way down, after witnessing the viral videos over the weekend, is that really a safe alternative?” Cervantes said.


Most bars on Washington Street, with or without outdoor seating, have decided to stay open. That is not the case for J.R. Murphy’s which has been closed since March 18th. On Murphy’s twitter, the business said in June they would return in August. As of today, the bar is still closed.


Mayor Joyce is not aware of any other bars having applied for a permit for outdoor seating but said the city will continue to work on making outdoor seating a more permanent solution. This could make it more worthwhile for bars to invest in the opportunity.


“We wanted to get this opportunity out to those bar and restaurant owners now to see if this would be something that would help them,” Joyce said.