Austin restaurants and bars were left with a decision: risk a citation on New Year's Eve, or close their doors before the countdown
On the last night of 2020 Stanley Adams, owner of Siena Ristorante Toscana, prepared for a scaled-back salute to the end of a very bad business year.
"We are doing a relatively full, normal New Year's Eve but, you know, with the required spacing and with less capacity than in a normal year," Adams says. "Of course, we've added a lot of outside seats at Siena; none of that's going to be very useful tonight."
December—which is normally Siena's best month—was a bust.
"We will struggle to just break even this month because our sales are much reduced," says Adams, who has recently closed several of his Brick Oven restaurants.
Atop of the already-in-place limitations to Austin dining, Mayor Steve Adler issued a statement announcing that restaurant and beverage operations would be expected to close their dining rooms between 10:30 p.m. and 6 a.m. for a three-day curfew from Dec. 31 to Jan. 3. Disobeying this order could result in a citation and a fine of up to $1,000.
Adams, an Austin restaurateur for over 30 years, modified his establishment's usual New Year's Eve plans to comply with Adler's order. "We didn't have any reservations after 9:30 p.m. and we didn't do the usual sort of midnight toast for those who stuck around for that."
Not only did the curfew hurt his business but shooing patrons out the door killed the convivial end-of-the-year atmosphere of the upscale eatery. In past years, Siena would have 20 or 25 people that hung out until midnight but that wasn't the case this year.
On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted: "This shutdown order by Austin isn't allowed. Period," adding: "The city has a responsibility to enforce existing orders, not make new ones." Then the next day Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued Austin and Travis County.
This shutdown order by Austin isn't allowed. Period. My executive order stops cities like Austin from arbitrarily… https://t.co/HCvHLZA8Uy— Greg Abbott (@Greg Abbott)1609304025.0
The complaints on the city's curfew continued into New Year's Eve when bar and restaurant owners, including Ellis Winstanley (El Arroyo) and Ben Davis (Come and Take it Live), joined First Assistant Attorney General Brent Webster, for a press conference regarding the new orders placing temporary restrictions on restaurant hours of operations. They said restaurants are not the problem because they are doing everything they can to ensure the safety of their customers and the food industry needs all the business they can get in a tough year.
Kelsey Erickson Streufert, vice president of government relations and advocacy for the Texas Restaurant Association, linked the ability of bars and restaurants to stay open late to a kind of social contract of coolness. "We like to say 'keep Austin weird'; well, Austin is not going to be very weird if we keep going down our current path," she said.
Less than five hours before 2021, Gov. Abbott released a statement: "The Governor's statewide executive order allows food establishments to be open for in-person dining on New Year's Eve as authorized by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. They should remain open. Happy New Year!"
An hour after that, Mayor Adler released his own statement appealing to common sense and decency, saying: "We are trying to save as many lives as we can, guided by the doctors and the data. We're encouraged the District Court agreed that cities have the authority to react to local conditions and protect their residents when the state won't. This is not a drill—Austin is experiencing uncontrolled spread of the virus."
The political ping-pong more or less came to an end an hour before midnight when a Travis County District judge upheld Austin's curfew restricting when restaurants and bars could serve customers during the New Year's weekend.
But even with that, multiple bars and venues along 6th street remained open past curfew, The Austin American-Statesman reported.
Across Austin, food and beverage venues have had to make difficult decisions when it comes to how they operate. Some have opted to stay close entirely during the COVID surge.
Celis Brewery(Teresa Mikulastik)
Teresa Mikulastik, taproom manager/event coordinator at Celis Brewery, said that this year the brewery elected to stay closed on New Year's Eve for the first time since opening in 2017. She said the decision was made before the curfew was put in place.
Celis Brewery, which briefly switched to to-go only service in an effort to provide craft beer during the strictest stages of the pandemic, is focused on providing peace of mind along with its pints.
"Breweries and brewpubs are about fellowship and camaraderie: sitting with your friends and family at the bar, drinking your favorite beers, and sharing your day," says Mikulastik. "To have that experience taken away is very difficult."
Christine Celis, owner of Celis Brewery(Teresa Mikulastik)
Austin Kalman, owner of the Aristocrat Lounge, had planned on reopening at the end of November but, when he saw the spike of COVID coming, decided that postponing would be the wiser thing to do.
Kalman feels bothered by what he views as the reckless attitude of some bars regarding COVID-19 restrictions.
"It is frustrating because I know a bunch of people that are doing a really good job of running their establishment as safely as they can and trying, even going beyond, you know, whatever the governor's recommendations are," he says, adding, "then to see other places, you know, like a lot of places downtown that are basically just letting people do whatever they want … yeah, it is pretty frustrating."
Kalman plans on reopening the Aristocrat Lounge the second or third week of January.
"They always used to joke in the bar business that we were in a recession-proof industry," he says. "People are broke and out of work, they want to go have a drink, and when people are happy and things are good they want to go out and celebrate ...which is actually true. But not in the pandemic," he says.
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With a taste of MLS play under their belts, Austin FC is entering the second half of a scoreless inaugural match.
The club has been given some generous breaks from No. 2 LAFC, who had one or both of their star DPs out for the half. While forward Diego Rossi is out for the entire match due to a hamstring injury, Carlos Vela was accidentally pulled too soon on what turned out to be a miscommunication.
"He gave us the sign that he needed to come off," LAFC Head Coach Bob Bradley said on broadcast. "I can't say more than maybe it's my fault."
The two breaks aside, Austin FC has been holding their own against the match favorites. In the signature style of Head Coach Josh Wolff, the team has been quick and intense, nearly connecting on several fast breaks. ATXFC has also kept about equal possession with LAFC, although their shot attempts haven't been quite as nervewracking as the home team.
LAFC has given goalkeeper Brad Stuver some scares with 11 shot attempts, four of them on goal. By contrast, Austin FC has had five shots on goal.
LA has pulled some dramatics and slowly gained more possession throughout the half, but ATXFC's defense isn't as shaky as it seemed in preseason. Jhohan Romana has pulled his weight in getting the ball out of goal, and defensive midfielder Alex Ring has shown the qualities that make him captain as he leads his teammates through their first ever match.
Will Austin FC win against the odds? It's tough to tell, but Austonia will keep you updated!
It's matchday! Austin FC—Austin's first major league sport team—kicks off its debut season in Los Angeles today after years in the making. We know how much this means to our beloved city and are taking you along with us as we journey to LA!
Austin FC writer Claire Partain and I are excited to bring you game-day coverage straight from the City of Angels. Check back here for updates, and visit our socials: @austonianews for the latest.
5 p.m: Kickoff!
It's finally here! Claire will be updating Austonia's Twitter account live. And we'll post her game recap after the game. Best of luck Verdes!
4:40 p.m: Excitement radiates back home
Watch parties are in plenty supply back home. Austonia's Laura Figi visited Circle Brewing Co. and found a crowd of excited supporters.
4:20 p.m: Austin FC supporters are in the stadium
Although the Banc of California Stadium is hosting the match at limited capacity, we see some green in the stands ahead of kickoff. Just moments away from the Austin FC's debut!
~3:20 p.m: Austin FC's team bus enters the stadium grounds
With a warm welcome from Los Verdes, Austin FC players were welcomed into the Banc of California Stadium.
~1 p.m: Los Verdes in LA
(Rigo Rodriguez/Los Verdes)
Austin FC supporters are making their presence known in LA, including the Los Verdes group.
Los Verdes members started having match-day fun around the area this morning with brunch. We'll be joining them about an hour before the game outside the stadium to share some of their excitement. We'll post immediately to Austonia's Instagram.
11:45 a.m: We landed!
View from hotel room where we're staying; the stadium digital sign can be seen in the right corner. (Sonia Garcia/Austonia)
Switching over to pacific time, we're here and it's almost like no time went by. It's 9:45 a.m. here.
We've been in contact with Los Verdes, an Austin FC supporter group, who is also here in LA counting down to kickoff.
8:20 a.m: LA bound
Like many of you, we've been looking forward to this moment for, let's just say, a very long time. Today, we woke up bright and early, headed to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and hopped on a flight to LA.
A gloomy day in Austin with a very quiet airport, we're headed to sunny skies in California.
As we wait for the game to start at 4:30 p.m., check out Claire's preview of the game with a predicted lineup and timeline of the long journey to get here.