Dave Galtman was the first person to grab a beer at the Vets Bar in downtown Gilroy on June 15 in more than 13 months, sitting in a corner spot and chatting with bar manager Will McIntosh.
It had been over a year of public health restrictions, shelter-in-place orders, face covering requirements and quarantining periods. Bars, deemed by the state as one of the more riskier activities in spreading Covid-19, were among the first to close and the last to reopen.
When California celebrated its grand “reopening” on June 15 and did away with many of the mandates that had been part of daily life since March 2020, Gilroyans gathered to support their local watering holes and catch up with friends not seen in person for far too long.
Shortly after the Vets Bar opened at 2pm, Galtman was joined by Johnny Guevara and Marianna Snake.
“My heart is just like,” Guevara said while making a rapid beating motion with his hand near his chest as he took a seat at the bar. “It’s good to see a good bartender. Everything’s squared away right here.”
When asked jokingly if he would be visiting the bar daily, Guevara didn’t hesitate to answer.
“Hell yeah,” he said with a laugh.
McIntosh was the bartender on duty when the bar reopened. The Vets Bar, located in the Veterans Memorial Building at 74 West Sixth St., is open to all veterans and their guests.
“I’m glad things are getting back to normal,” he said.
Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California Department of Public Health eliminated the tier system, replacing it with a new “Beyond the Blueprint” guide for industries and business sectors.
Under the current guidelines, verification of Covid-19 vaccination or a negative test is required only for indoor “mega events” of 5,000 attendees or more. Such verification is recommended for outdoor mega events (10,000 or more people).
There are no statewide public health capacity limits or social distancing requirements for any indoor retail, dining or other business—including bars, movie theaters and family entertainment centers. Schools no longer have to enforce social distancing guidelines, according to the Santa Clara County Office of Education.
Half a block away from the Vets Bar, Bartenders Union Local 408 owner Dustin Evanger was busy making the final touches as he prepared to reopen his establishment after being shuttered for 13 months.
Evanger said news of the bar’s reopening has been received with “overwhelming positivity.”
“Everybody’s ready for a little more freedom,” he said.
All of the bar’s staff of nine will return, with the exception of one who had moved away from the area. Evanger added that he’s stayed in touch with his staff frequently throughout the pandemic.
“We’re very thankful for our staff,” he said. “Everyone’s very excited to get back to it.”
When bars were forced to close by the state in March 2020, Evanger said he believed it was the right thing to do at the time.
“It was an unknown,” he said. “We knew there was this thing that we didn’t know how bad it was. Erring on the side of caution was the right thing to do.”
But the waiting game was difficult.
“We certainly didn’t realize that it was going to be as long and drawn out as it’s been,” he said. “The hardest part was just the not knowing. Not knowing when we are going to open again. Not knowing what the proper procedures are.”
Evanger described Bartenders Union, 7421 Monterey St., as a “neighborhood bar” complete with 20 craft brews on tap, music and pool. The bar opens at 3pm on weekdays at 1pm on the weekends.
“Come on in and enjoy a cold brew,” he said.