HONOLULU (KHON2) — Hundreds of people hit the bars this weekend for the first time since 2020.
Many bar owners say they were caught off guard by Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi’s announcement to reopen bars on Thursday.
“I thought it was great, at least we’re moving in the right direction and he’s being proactive and pro-business,” said Don Murphy, who owns Murphy’s Bar and Grill. “The phones started ringing and we got several calls from people asking how late we were going to be open and (if) bars are open.”
Murphy’s was able to remain open by serving food and drinks throughout the summer and he said Thursday was his busiest night since the pandemic began. “It was a good night. We just got to watch and control it and we can stay open a little bit later so we had better numbers but it was pretty much as full as we could be with spacing and everything like that,” he said.
He says it won’t be easy staying open later and having more people coming in drinking with restrictions in place, but he hopes patrons can understand the rules that are in place.
“The people are the ones that have to cooperate and understand, and as the night gets later, and people have more to drink, of course they feel looser, and we really have to just be on them,” he explained.
Murphy says that will be the case on St. Patrick’s Day, one of the busiest days of the year for the bar.
Murphy’s won’t have its annual block party, but is already preparing for St. Patty’s Day by prepping 1,500 pounds of corned beef for takeout.
He says the inside is sold out throughout the day for lunch and dinner. People who want corned beef and cabbage, salmon or shanked lamb can visit their website and order ahead.
“No block party this year. Hopefully next year we get back on track. We’ll see,” the bar owner said.
Down the road, Smith’s Union Bar opened for the first time this week since March 17, 2020.
“I was caught off guard by Mayor Blangiardi’s announcement, but the mayor’s a man of his word, he said he’d do it, and he did it, and I owe him dearly,” said Smith’s Union Bar owner Dwight Lockwood.
The bar is dubbed Hawaii’s oldest bar and Lockwood said Saturday was his busiest night ever.
“It was amazing. Everyone was so happy to be back out and everyone behaved themselves. They’re so thankful to have a place to go. It went great,” he said. “I had record sales. I couldn’t be happier. I needed it, because it’s been a long year.”
Murphy and Lockwood hope other bar owners and patrons follow COVID-19 guidelines.
“Let’s behave ourselves. You want to come out, have a drink, but don’t mess this up for everybody,” Lockwood said. “This is people’s livelihood. This is my livelihood and I do not want to mess this up for myself and I don’t want to mess it up for anyone else.”
He said he doesn’t know if he or many bars who just reopened will be able to be open for St. Patrick’s Day because the news of reopening was so unexpected and many bars haven’t put in a delivery order in months.
“Maybe I get a delivery, maybe I don’t? We don’t know yet, it will be an interesting St. Patrick’s Day that’s for sure,” Lockwood added.
However, Mayor Blangiardi’s reopening announcement came a little too late for other bar owners.
“Mayor Blangiardi understands the need to have businesses in operation, but guess what? In the eyes of Governor Ige and former Mayor Kirk Caldwell we were not essential businesses. In fact it seems as if we were disposable businesses,” said Bill Comerford, president of the Hawaii Bar Owners Association.
“As you can see bars are open, but not mine,” he said while looking around his empty bar, O’Tooles.
The once packed bar is now boarded up, with bar stools topped on top of one another.
“It’s the same at Irish Rose, Anna O’Briens and Kelly O’Neils,” he said of his three other bars that have also closed down within the year.
Comerford says he is extremely frustrated that he received no help from the government, not even a conversation.
“We had no income since July 30. We had to pay rent, we had to pay taxes, we had to pay insurance. All those things with no income,” he said.
“I don’t trust a thing anyone from government says, because we were told we would be closed for 15 days back in March 2020. We were closed for 90 days. They let us open up to pay for our liquor licenses at reduced numbers, then they decided to close us on July 30 for three weeks, and as I said it’s been a long time. Three weeks has gone all the way into another year,” Comerford shared.
“They had plenty of time to converse with me, but they never did. They know what they did, they killed my business and they did it intentionally. That’s my firm belief and I don’t see why I should stick around Hawaii,” he said about the previous administration.
Comerford says he reached out to the City, HI-EMA, DEBDT and state legislatures and only three people responded to him to hear what he had to say: Lt. Governor Josh Green, Rep. Gene Ward and City Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga.
Comerford said if COVID-19 cases do break out at bars, or clusters start to form, Mayor Blangiardi should be fair and come up with a way to punish bars who break or don’t follow the rules.
“Punish the people that do it wrong. Reward the people who do it right. Don’t call them all evil, because I’m not a person that’s been evil. I’ve been the guy that had a gathering place for years. Just like Oahu, I’m guilty of gathering people together,” he said.
“I wish the fellow bar owners well, I hope they all had a great weekend, I wish them a great opening week, and I wish them success because obviously you’re not open 100 percent. You’re open a little bit and if that gives you a glimmer of hope and a chance to survive, I sincerely hope you the best,” he concluded.