CEDAR RAPIDS — Rick Martin couldn’t celebrate his 75th birthday at his favorite hangout, but plans to make up for that when the Red Lion Lounge opens this Thursday, May 28.
“I’m tickled to death,” said the Navy veteran, who served two tours in Vietnam. “We have a lot of good friends down here that we miss a lot.”
Red Lion co-owners Kristina Meyer and Mary Hansen feel the same.
While Hansen hopes for a sense of normalcy after more than two months being closed, Meyer is taking a wait-and-see approach.
“We’re just going to see what happens in the next month or so,” she said, in reference to state guidelines.
Like other bars that don’t offer food for customers, the Red Lion has been closed since March 17, as part of the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Social distancing signs, tables spread at least 6 feet apart and automatic hand sanitizer stations are among the changes customers will see at the Red Lion, as well as other Iowa bars, which can begin reopening May 28.
Already, Iowa restaurants have begun reopening and bars will follow similar recommendations, including limiting customers to 50 percent of normal capacity, limiting groups seated together to 10 and ensuring all patrons have seating at a table or bar.
Establishments also must ensure at least 6 feet of physical distance between each group or individual dining or drinking alone, which might be a challenge when friends who haven’t seen each other for months return to socialize.
Meyer and Hansen have spent the last two months cleaning and reorganizing their bar at 3970 Center Point Rd. NE, known for its Friday and Saturday night karaoke.
For now, the karaoke and other entertainment are on hold, as the two see how business goes with a limit of 55 instead of their regular 110-person occupancy, including bartenders.
They plan to open at 2 p.m. Thursday, but their closing time is up in the air.
“It could be 2 (a.m.) It could be midnight, it could be 10,” Meyer said, depending on the customers.
The two are leaving it up to their bartenders on whether or not they will be wearing face masks and customers are not required to wear them.
Gov. Kim Reynolds has allowed a number of businesses to reopen in the state, beginning May 1, with bars, wineries and distilleries the latest to open this week.
Casinos, outdoor playgrounds, bowling alleys, amusement parks and more will be allowed to reopen beginning June 1.
Related: Activities allowed to resume in Iowa
Some health experts have warned against reopening too soon, as states could risk a spike in cases.
As of Wednesday, May 27, in the past 24 hours, Iowa had 603 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, bringing the state’s total to 18,262.
Another 21 Iowans had died of COVID-19 in that same time period, with a total of 487 deaths in the state, as the death toll in the United States surpassed 100,000. The number of hospitalizations in Iowa rose from 375 on May 26 to 393 on May 27, with 32 new patients admitted in the past 24 hours, compared to 28 the previous day; 109 patients in intensive care units and 66 on ventilators.
The Iowa Department of Public Health encourages Iowans with underlying health conditions and those 65 and older to continue to stay at home as much as possible.
Still, Martin, who falls into the high risk category, is undeterred.
“We went out to eat and we didn’t have any issues,” Martin said of he and his wife, who is more worried than he is. “I’m not overly concerned.”