Outdoor dining at restaurants, bars returns to Sonoma County
From the outdoor patio at Russian River Vineyards, the coronavirus pandemic seemed nothing but a surreal fever dream. Honey bees flitted from purple to yellow blooms. A guitarist plucked a melody. Small groups of people held quiet conversations at picnic tables spread out around the patio.
Servers wore gloves and masks to deliver wine glasses and a carafe of pinot noir, but they introduced the wine then walked away, leaving guests to feel as if the dystopian milieu of the global pandemic wasn’t still a threat.
The door to normalcy cracked open just a bit more Saturday, the first day since mid-March that restaurants as well as wineries and breweries that serve food were allowed to welcome customers for in- person dining, albeit only at outdoor settings.
The relaxed order, issued by Sonoma County’s health department late Friday, caused a flurry of preparations by businesses scrambling to open for the Memorial Day weekend, normally a gateway to the tourism and hospitality industry’s busiest season.
“We didn’t know what to expect,” said co-founder and winemaker Gio Balistreri.
By 9 a.m. they had 40 reservations for that day. His partner, Chris Oneill, had spent the last six weeks reconfiguring their patio and gardens to ensure picnic tables were at least 6 feet apart.
Brett Browman of San Francisco appreciated their effort.
“It’s a symbol of hope,” he said, enjoying sandwiches and wine with friends on the patio at Russian River Vineyards’ 6 acres of grapes near Forestville.
Browman, who had been staying at his second home in Guerneville, said it did not feel like it was a trivial luxury to gather around a table with good friends after a two-month economic shutdown.
Saturday transformed Healdsburg Plaza, which had been all but deserted over the last two months, into a festive, summery town square.
Children licking ice cream cones dipped their toes into the fountain. Cyclists reclined in the shade. Families lounged on blankets, masks pulled down from their faces and hung at their necks.
Customers ate sausages and sipped beers on the patio at The Wurst, which Healdsburg local Charles Bell opened nine years ago. Business had about doubled Saturday compared to the curbside to-go orders they’d been filling since the health department’s shutdown order precluded dining, Bell said.
But it was still about 40% of what he’d expect during what is normally the Memorial Day crush.
Bell sighed, exhausted, yet said he was optimistic that his business, and his town, would pull through the pandemic-caused downturn.
“It’s been a good day,” Bell said. “But we have to bring tourists back.”
Saturday’s brisk business came as Sonoma County continues to report more cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The county reported another 15 cases on Saturday, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to 482. Of that number, 271 are active cases, 207 people have recovered and four have died. The number of active cases has climbed in recent weeks as the county has ramped up its ability to test people for the virus.
At Brewsters Beer Garden along the Petaluma River, owner Mike Goebel said he served about 150 patrons for lunch with a summertime temperature of 80 degrees.