Jack's Place

Jerry and Jill Saia, owners of Jack’s Place, a historic bar in downtown Port Allen, hoped to reopen under Phase 3 but will continue to wait. Under the executive order Gov. John Bel Edwards signed Friday, Sept. 11, only parishes with a positivity rate of 5 percent or lower for two consecutive weeks may opt-in to open bars for on-premises consumption.

Jill Saia had hopes last week that she and her husband Jerry would soon see some friends they had not seen in a while.

It did not happen.

The long-awaited move into Phase 3 led them to believe that looser restrictions would allow them to reopen Jack’s Place.

Under the executive order Gov. John Bel Edwards signed Friday, Sept. 11, the reopen policy for on-premises consumption in Louisiana in Phase 3 is based on the parish’s percent positivity of coronavirus cases for a two-week period.

Only parishes with a positivity rate of 5 percent or lower for two consecutive weeks may opt-in to open bars for on-premises consumption, under restrictions in the Governor’s order.

This two-week percent positivity will be updated every two weeks by the Louisiana Department of Health, with the next update scheduled for Sept. 16.

When reopened, bars will open at 25 percent capacity, up to 50 people, indoors for customers seated for tableside service. They may have no more than 50 customers outdoors, socially distanced and seated for tableside service.

Case positivity higher than 5 percent in West Baton Rouge keeps the doors of Jack’s Place and other lounges closed at least for two weeks. 

For Jack’s, Phase 3 continues a shutdown that began Mar. 16. It opened briefly during the summer but shut down again when bars were ordered closed after a spike in COVID, which consisted largely of congregate gathering at bars.

The Saias hope to reopen. They redid the floors, changed the doors and made other improvements through the money they secured from an SBA loan.

They have also applied for whatever additional assistance they qualified for.

“In the meantime, we’re still paying bills – electricity, cable and the security system,” Jill Saia said.

As owners of the entire building, they are remodeling the other parcels and hope to rent out the spot once occupied by a payday loan business.

It’s the only way to stay afloat, Jill Saia said.

“I don’t see an end in sight for the closure,” she said. “We’re lucky in that respect to have something.”

They considered adding a kitchen as a way to reopen the pub, but the work would be cost-prohibitive for a building that dates back 100 years.

“It would be more expenses that we’re taking in,” Jill said.

Residents still meet outside the building for the running club, but they’re not allowed inside.

She said she understands the reasons behind the restrictions but does not see sense in some of them.

State Police say they can operate two of the four video poker machines, but the serving of drinks would remain prohibited.

“I’m not paying a bartender just to let people come in to play video poker, and not be able to serve them a drink,” Jill said.

The restrictions make the law-abiding establishments suffer for those in Tigerland and other areas, where college students gathered for crowded parties on weekends in May through July.

“We’re a neighborhood bar that has hosted baby showers, senior spirit groups, and Cajun bands,” she said. “On a given night, we don’t have more than 25 people, and that’s a good night for us … we’re not Tigerland.”

Jill said she does not fault Gov. John Bel Edwards. She blames college bars at Tigerland, along with businesses such as Firehouse BBQ in Watson, whose defiance on mask orders has led to a highly publicized case that will be decided in state court.

“It’s those who break the rules that are keeping me closed, not Gov. Edwards,” she said. “Plus, we need a vaccine.”

Jill hopes customers will return once the state gives the go-ahead to reopen.

“Jerry and I hope to hold a party there when we turn 100 – if we’re allowed to reopen by then,” she said.

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