Before now, the televisions were dark, the patios were deserted, the mason jars sat empty and the regulars stayed home.
That all changed Friday.
Stan’s Blue Note, the Lower Greenville Avenue staple that opened in 1952, is welcoming customers again.
Mid-August, Mike McRae, the proprietor of Stan’s, which is one of five places he operates with business partner Gabe Nicolella, filed for a food and beverage certificate from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. It’s a popular tactic for bars trying to weather the pandemic.
“Part of the deal is we have to serve less than 50% alcohol to keep that going,” McRae says. “So, our plan is to invest in T-shirts being made, and we are going to basically tell everybody that comes in that if they want to come in, they have to eat.”
With a food and beverage certificate, the TABC requires that “alcoholic beverage sales cannot exceed 60% of the total gross receipts of the licensed premise” under normal circumstances. However, an executive order currently in place from Gov. Greg Abbott states that all businesses where more than 51% of sales come from alcohol for on-site consumption may not allow customers on the premises.
To circumvent the order, businesses such as bars must submit projected future sales to the TABC. If those projections show less than 51% revenue from alcohol, then they can operate. Establishments must also provide a place to eat on-site as well as serve at least eight entrees on the menu. Recently though, the TABC approved amendments that allow for more lenient measures to get bars, tap houses and wineries reopened.
Although the emphasis wasn’t necessarily on dining before, transitioning Stan’s to food-first service will not be difficult. The bar is equipped with a commercial kitchen, and a full kitchen staff makes most dishes on the menu, which already has more than 20 items, from scratch. Like any other restaurant, it will operate at 50% capacity inside.
“We’re going to get it reopened and push food and merchandise,” McRae says, “and we’ll just have to make it work.”
While countless places have taken hits, this year has been particularly tough for the employees and patrons of Stan’s. January began with news of the passing of beloved longtime former bartender Clay Jackson. A few months later, COVID-19 struck and Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson issued an order closing bars.
Stan’s briefly came back to life as part of Gov. Abbott’s Open Texas plan in late May. Bars could operate at 25% capacity then. McRae says sales during that period were about 75% of where they were the previous year.
It was short-lived, though. Abbott shut bars back down June 26 after coronavirus cases surged statewide.
That left the employees out of work. Luckily they were able to get unemployment benefits through the CARES act as the governor flip-flopped on which businesses could remain open. Unfortunately, Congress allowed those benefits to expire July 31.
Getting the staff back to work — the bar has 10 full- and part-time employees — is one of the reasons Stan’s is reopening. But there is another incentive to reopen now, too. Sports are back.
Sports are big business at Stan’s, which has a reputation as one of Dallas’ best sports bars. Both the Dallas Mavericks and Dallas Stars made the playoffs in their respective “bubbles.” The Texas Rangers are also back in action, and football is around the corner.
“If we can get open with all these sporting events going on and make sure that we're open before football season starts, we feel like we'll be OK,” McRae says. “I keep telling everybody what Dallas needs is two things: We need sports and we need a vaccine.”
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A vaccine is likely months away at best, but McRae is optimistic. He’s seen a few things in his 48 years in the restaurant industry, and he feels like business will be back to normal come 2021.
With Stan’s Blue Note now back open, the challenge becomes navigating whatever uncertainties the remainder of 2020 has in store. It beats the alternative.
“We can’t continue just to be closed,” McRae says. “Just like most other bars, you still have to pay rent, you have to pay insurance, you still have a lot of bills coming in, and eventually you run out of money if you don’t get something going on.”
Stan's Blue Note, 2908 Greenville Ave. (Lower Greenville). Open 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.