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Getting the Willies: Stillwater bars play fast and loose with COVID rules

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Willies Saloon on Washington Street has lax restrictions amid COVID-19, even telling customers "you all don’t have to wear your masks in here.”

Two Oklahoma State students walked into Willies Saloon, where stale cigarette smoke hung in the air, equipped with face coverings and social distancing in mind. 

It was 6 p.m. on a Wednesday, not a busy hour. They approached the bar for a celebratory birthday drink. 

The unmasked bartender told the students:

“By the way, you all don’t have to wear your masks in here.” 

Willies Saloon is on Washington Street, alongside most of Stillwater’s bars. The street got national attention after a series of videos revealed a lack of social distancing and masks at the bars. 

Willies took advantage of the outdoor seating option given by the city and has a fence blocking off the outdoor seating.

Bella Beffer, a marketing and graphic design major, said she is trying to get the most out of her senior year, but the lack of consistency in the way bars are handling the mandate makes it difficult to know which bars are safe. 

“It was a little unsettling to hear,” Beffer said about the bartenders comment. “We are trying to be safe if we go out, but obviously we can’t control anyone else.” 

Stillwater’s Aug. 18 “State of Emergency” declaration said, “Employees and all other persons involved in the operation of the bar, shall wear face coverings at all times while on the bar premises.”

The declaration states that a violation of the mandate is a Class “A” offense, which carries up to a $750 fine and 60 days imprisonment. When the O’Colly asked the city manager’s office what they are doing to enforce the mandate, their answers were vague. 

The O’Colly attempted to reach out to Willies management for comment via phone call, email, social media and in person but was unsuccessful. 

Each bar in Stillwater adapted to the city’s guidelines differently.

College Bar keeps track of capacity and turns customers away once it has reached its limit. 

Inside The Union, tables can be found six feet apart. It still allows seating at its bar while the staff is wearing masks.

Stonewall posted signs on every pool table reminding customers to wear a mask while playing and no longer has seating at its bar.  

J.R. Murphy’s reopened last Friday, after nearly a sixth month hiatus, with limited capacity and outdoor seating. 

Cierra Shoemaker, a business marketing sophomore, said hearing the bartenders comment made her anxious for the future of in-person classes.

“I am wary of what could happen for the spring semester if students keep going to these bars who do not care about their safety and well-being,” Shoemaker said.

news.ed@ocolly.com