On the last day of July, John Guggenmos stood by the entrance of Number Nine, one of the two gay bars he co-owns in D.C.’s Logan Circle neighborhood, because he thought his staff might need a little backup. D.C.’s reinstated indoor mask mandate went into effect that morning, and Number Nine was enforcing a new policy that required customers to prove they’d been vaccinated or tested negative for COVID-19 within the prior three days. Guggenmos wanted to be prepared to defuse any confrontations that might arise. He was relieved when none did.
“Hands down, if we had one person complain about it, we had 40 people applaud it,” Guggenmos says. “There were people that were like, ‘Oh my God, this is great. Let me text my friends a picture. Or tweet it out. It’s about time. Everybody needs to step up.’”
In the past two weeks, nearly 30 bars and restaurants across the city have begun requiring proof of vaccination for entry. As more businesses follow, a group of gay bars and dives have emerged as trendsetters by taking swift action to enforce a policy they say protects their service staff and their customers.
“This is what our crowd wanted,” says Guggenmos, also a partner in Trade on 14th Street NW. “This is what our market wanted. We’ve had great support from our regulars. Our patrons have been phenomenal throughout the whole pandemic.”
Last week, a coalition of 13 D.C.-area theaters moved to require proof of vaccination from customers through the end of the year. This week, properties in José Andrés’s ThinkFoodGroup started advertising a policy requiring vaccinations for diners over 12. On Tuesday, August 10, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced the city will mandate vaccinations or routine testing for its pool of more than 35,000 workers. I.M.P., the parent company for music venues like the 9:30 Club and the Anthem, followed suit for its performance spaces.
As he walked his dogs back on Saturday, July 31, Guggenmos says he observed eerily quiet scenes at several bars that had to ask customers to mask back up. Meanwhile, there was a line to get into Trade.
A little more than a mile away, in Adams Morgan, gay bar Pitchers had also started asking to see proof of vaccinations as soon as the new mask mandate went into effect. An Instagram post telling customers they had to show a hard copy or a photo of their vaccination cards firmly states “No exceptions, no arguing, no talking to the manager.”
Dave Perruzza, who owns Pitchers and adjoining lesbian bar A League of Her Own, says for his regulars, proving their vaccination status hasn’t been that big of a deal. “I feel like everyone’s been vaccinated,” he says.
Inside his bars, Perruzza says, 90 percent of the people are holding a drink at any given time, so they don’t have wear a mask under the current guidelines. He says he had already been discussing a vaccination policy with his managers the week before instituting one.