Patrons lined up at Lubbock bars Friday, looking to quench not just a literal thirst but also a need for social interaction.
Texas bars could reopen at 25% capacity starting the long Memorial Day weekend, after about a two-month statewide coronavirus closure. Bar owners were frustrated to not be included in the first phase of reopenings in the state, as previously reported by Texas Tech Public Media.
Guidelines call for no more than six people per socially-distanced tables. People are expected to stay seated. No grouping up around the bar, dancing or partaking in bar games like pool. If a bar doesn't comply, their Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission license could be revoked.
The Blue Light Live in Lubbock’s Depot District opened at midnight Friday for two-hours of live music and camaraderie. The bar next door, Rewind, also opened. The rest of the Depot District remained dark.
Mike Sees was one of the first people in line at Blue Light. He last visited the bar and popular music venue in the winter.
"It’s nice to have your places that are opening back up and everything," Sees said "It’s nice to get back to a sort of normalcy. Especially with the Blue Light. It’s such a big part of the heart of the culture around here.”
Folks arrived in small groups. They seemed to be regulars - a lot of them know eachother. They greeted friends as they lined up, but there was not much hugging or handshaking.
About 80 people were in line when the doors opened. Capacity was 67. They were full within six minutes.
Inside, tables covered the dancefloor. Customers were asked to get their drink and sit down. Sees planned to order a Lonestar beer. Maybe a house-specialty shot to celebrate.
“I’m just expecting it to be nice, relaxed. Cold drink. Listen to some good live music," Sees said. "I don’t know if there’s too much more you could ask for.”
The Blue Light has live music scheduled through the weekend.
At college-crowd favorite Chimy’s, there were about 65 people in line for the 11 a.m. opening. Their capacity was 50. A masked employee asked customers to stand further apart, at a six-feet distance marked by red dots on the ground.
First in line was Jonas Garcia. He turned 21 while social distancing. He said he drank at home to celebrate, but was eager to go out. His friends said Chimy's is the first bar every self-respecting Texas Tech student goes to after coming of age. Garcia planned to order a frozen margarita, the drink Chimy's is known for.
The group of three got in line around 9:30 a.m.
“He came banging on our door about 7:45 in the morning, saying ‘We gotta go, we gotta go,’" Garcia said. "So we got up as fast as possible to get here. Now, you can look, we got a huge line.”
Brianna Maldonado is a recent Texas Tech graduate who lives in Dallas. She’s in town visiting friends. She said she feels safer going to a bar in Lubbock than she would in Dallas.
“It’s a lot easier in a smallish town to keep track of, like, the amount of people they’re letting in, and who’s washing their hands, who’s sanitizing," Maldonado said.
She planned to spend hours at Chimy’s, what she called the ideal bar for day drinking, and hop to other Broadway bars later in the day. She’s spent a lot of time with her family the past few months. Seeing other people is exciting.
“People here are all dressed up. Makeup on, girls’ hair done, guys look spiffy," Maldonado said. "Having the opportunity to get out of your house, and not only get out of your house and go to the grocery store, but feel presentable is exciting in itself.”
What was once a routine outing now feels special.
“The slow steps right now, the excitement right now, is worth it," she said before heading inside for a bean and cheese quesadilla and margarita. Or maybe a Lubbock-signature Chilton.