The Spur Bar and Grill, briefly the epicenter of the pandemic in Utah, reemerges on Park City’s Main Street
For a few days in mid-March, The Spur Bar and Grill on Main Street was the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in Utah. A person working the door had what turned out to be the first known case in the state resulting from community spread, prompting the bar to shut down immediately and patrons to wonder whether they’d handed him their ID on their way into the popular nighttime hangout.
The bar’s managing partner, Cortney Johanson, remembers that Friday the 13th and the days that followed as devastating and full of questioning what they’d done wrong.
“When I heard from the Health Department, I cried all night, I probably cried for three days,” Johanson said of her reaction when health officials informed her an employee had tested positive for the coronavirus. “Are we going to have to change the name? Are we ever going to be in business again?”
From those dark days, something approaching normalcy slowly started to emerge as the vitriol Johanson expected failed to materialize and support from the community started to pour in.
She and her husband Fabio Ferreira, who is also a managing partner, set to work with the bar’s management team to devise a way to reopen safely, culminating with the first shift back on May 20.
The Spur is operating with abbreviated hours, enhanced sanitization protocols and many fewer patrons, and is casting itself more as a restaurant than a bar for now, eschewing the late-night crowd by closing at 9 p.m.
Still, Johanson reports that the lunch rush is as busy as ever these days, and she’s confident the business will pull through.
Figuring out how to reopen involved hours of meetings, she said, trying to establish systems for how to function during the pandemic. Some of the precautions were obvious, like removing most of the bar stools and rearranging the tables so patrons could remain at least 6 feet apart.
But others were less apparent, like setting up a separate place to put customer-used pens before they could be sanitized, or effectively isolating the bartender so that he or she could continue to make drinks without touching anything that hadn’t been sanitized.
It’s taken more labor hours to meet the requirements they’ve put in place, Johanson said, and she noted the difficulty of policing human nature like making sure servers aren’t using their phones during their shifts or ensuring groups of customers remain separated.
And while lunch traffic is strong, Johanson estimated weekend business has dropped off 80% to 90%.
The Spur received a Paycheck Protection Program loan, Johanson said, and so was able to retain all of its staff.
“The weekend is where it really hurts,” she said. “The life before this was a lot different. … We’re never going to hit these humongous numbers that we once hit.”
Part of that results from the decision to close earlier, Johanson said, shutting the doors at 9 p.m. rather than 1 a.m., and part of it is from the drastically reduced capacity. One of the three bar areas is closed for maintenance, leaving the capacity between the upstairs and downstairs bars capped at fewer than 100 people. That’s down from a 500-person capacity just six months ago.
Things are different, but Johanson is confident the business will pull through and is buoyed by the support she’s felt from the community.
Johanson said she awoke the day after The Spur shut down expecting to see hatred rising from her inboxes. Instead, she found an outpouring of support, with well-wishes from regulars and promises to be the first back inside the bar when it reopened.
She recalled a particularly moving message from a fellow Park City businessperson, Alpine Distilling’s Rob Sergent.
“‘You and Fabio, you paid into the bank. You gave your time, you gave your effort, you supported this community,’” she recalled Sergent telling her. “‘This is your day to take a withdrawal. All the stuff you do in the community to promote the community, now is the time to see it and the people to get back to you.’”
And that’s what’s happened, Johanson said, with regulars streaming back into the bar and kindnesses emanating from the establishment’s extended family.
“When this all hit — it devastated my husband and I. We think of our customers as family, our staff as family — we were absolutely devastated,” Johanson said. “People are finding a way around it — people are really resilient. Times like this, everyone’s going to come out and have a drink. It’s time to get a cocktail.”
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