Local bars consider future for providing live entertainment

A few Iowa City bars that host live entertainment must navigate precautionary measures in order to open again for the return of students on campus.

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Jake Maish

The front entrance to Gabe's is seen on Thursday, July 16 in Iowa City.

Megan Conroy, Arts Reporter


Coronavirus cases in Johnson County have been rising since June 15, motivating some downtown Iowa City businesses like Oasis and Revival to close their doors once again. However, a few local bars have decided after a short closing period to reopen their doors, though the question remains for many whether or not the downtown live music scene will return in the coming months.

Gabe’s, located on 330 E. Washington St., opened back up on June 1 after closing on March 14. Since reopening, the bar has practiced precautionary measures to ensure the safety of their patrons. The venue has been following recommended guidelines, which include sanitization stations on the main floor. The venue plans to remain open in the fall.

“Our indoor seating is minimal and discouraged,” Manager Pete McCarthy said. “We have been responsible for our capacity and our sanitation process. The only entertainment we provide currently is DJ’s out on the patio.”

McCarthy said Gabe’s will only close if they see a surge in cases amongst the staff. Patrons of the bar are encouraged to wear face coverings as well. If cases begin to slow, he plans on live entertainment resuming in the upstairs portion of the bar in August.

RELATED: Some Iowa City businesses suspend in-person service once again as COVID-19 cases spike

The website for Gabe’s has a line-up of concerts beginning as early as August 7, noting that capacity will be limited, masks will be required, and social distancing will be encouraged. All of the guidelines will be enforced by staff members, and entertainment venues are going to have to follow new safe and preventative guidelines if venues want things like indoor live entertainment to continue, McCarthy said.

For indoor shows at Gabe’s, capacity will be limited, and tables and barstools will be removed from the area. McCarthy added that bar service will also be limited to two people at a time.

“I think we need to look at this virus as something that is not going away,” McCarthy said. “Instead, we are going to have to follow new and preventative guidelines if we want things like indoor live entertainment to continue.”

The entrance to Yacht Club is seen on Thursday, July 16 in Iowa City. (Jake Maish)

Other venues in downtown Iowa City like Yacht Club and Studio 13, both located at 13 S. Linn St., have closed and reopened their doors as the COVID-19 situation evolves. Both are opening on July 17. Studio 13 and Yacht Club are following all guidelines in place by the CDC and Iowa Department of Public Health, such as face coverings and reduced capacity. Yacht club does not have any live shows lined up for the near future.

Studio and Yacht Club, however, plan to place plexiglass barriers around the bars and are requiring employees to sign a Mask of Wellness form before each shift. The Mask of Wellness program includes mask requirements for employees, sanitization practices, and the health of employees monitored daily.

To accommodate patrons who don’t feel comfortable physically going to Studio, the bar will livestream the drag shows they put on, according to owner Jason Zeman.

If Gabe’s management believes it is no longer safe to be open, McCarthy said, they will temporarily close until cases reduce. He said he is concerned that the measures taken, such as mask requirements, are inconsistent throughout downtown and hopes this will change.

Zeman added that alcohol is a factor of worry in opening bars. The consumption of alcohol impairs judgment, he said, which could lead to a potential coronavirus risk for patrons.

The pandemic has placed immense pressure on the downtown businesses to make decisions like opening for business and closing for safety. However, Zeman explained, there are times when the decision leans more on the livelihood of the business.

“The leadership at the state and federal levels has placed the burden on small businesses to balance the economic need to be open with the community’s need for health and safety,” he said. “With unemployment running out for much of our staff soon and bills continuing to accumulate, we worked to be able to provide the safest experience we can, as it seems we are in this new reality for the foreseeable future.”

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