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Restaurants reopen, find no rush for new normal in Las Vegas

With restaurants getting the go-ahead to resume dine-in service Saturday, while adhering to specific protocols, an unscientific spot-check of dining corridors in Southern Nevada found a majority delaying their reopenings.

Downtown Summerlin was abuzz Saturday afternoon with people enjoying the weather. The weekly farmers market had converted from a drive-up to a walk-up model, with guests interacting with the masked vendors from a safe distance.

Yet, while many of the complex’s two dozen restaurants were doing brisk afternoon traffic for curbside pickup, only five were offering the option of dining inside: the casual spots Crazy Pita and Earl of Sandwich and the more formal Sushi Loca, Grape Street and Wolfgang Puck Players Locker.

At Sushi Loca, the dining room was all but empty, while a cluster of customers — many of whom were not wearing masks — gathered around the hostess podium at Grape Street shortly before noon, and with multiple parties seated inside and on the patio.

Seeking normalcy

By the time Wolfgang Puck Players Locker began seating customers at noon, it already had 89 reservations on the books for the day. But when Daniel and Mindy Cook arrived without a reservation, they had no trouble making one.

“I’m ready for some sense of normalcy,” Mindy Cook explained as they waited outside for their reservation to be called. “I understand that normalcy isn’t going to look the same as it did before. And I’m respectful of that. But I’m ready to get back to whatever some kind of normal can look like for the foreseeable future.”

For Puck’s organization, Players Locker is the first chance to try new procedures, including a check-in process outside, fewer tables in the dining areas, repeated sanitizing and detailed logs of guest interactions to facilitate contact tracing should anyone later be diagnosed with COVID-19. Specific employees have been charged with answering questions about the health protocols.

“We’re in uncharted territory,” said general manager Doug Chippewa, “so we’re setting the bar for both our employees and the guests coming in, to make sure everyone feels comfortable.”

None of the restaurants required guests to wear face masks.

Face masks also were far from the norm Saturday morning among customers at the Omelet House at 316 N. Boulder Highway in Henderson, where counter seating was closed and alternate tables marked off. While the staff was fully masked, co-owner Fred Ostertag estimated that only 25 percent of his customers were.

One who was going without was 75-year-old Fred Hoban, who said he’d been coming in regularly for six years. During the shutdown, he said, he ordered takeout nearly daily, only missing five days during the period.

“I can just imagine how happy these girls are going to be to be back,” Hoban said.

Ostertag said he was glad to see the customers coming back but was maybe a little surprised by the general reaction.

“Everybody I’ve talked to looked at this thing like a big joke,” he said.

That wasn’t the case at Public Works Coffee Bar on Water Street in Henderson, where general manager Marino Angeles said they would continue takeout service until city employees return to work.

“And we want to take it slow and safe,” Angeles said. He said that even when the coffee bar does reopen to the public, they won’t allow seating inside.

“In a coffee shop, a lot of people come in for hours,” he said. “It’s not like taking reservations for a restaurant,” although most of their restaurant neighbors were still sticking to takeout.

One Public Works customer who was relaxing at an umbrella table outdoors was Laurie Barron.

“These guys are great,” Barron said. “I’d rather places open slowly and safely.”

She said that doesn’t seem to be the case everywhere.

“I went to a Walmart last night and felt horribly unsafe,” Barron said. “It was overcrowded, it didn’t feel clean. Nobody was wearing a mask. I feel very comfortable here.”

‘Doesn’t the place look great?’

At Lake Las Vegas early Saturday evening, five coyotes spotted near the parking garage for the Hilton Lake Las Vegas seemed like a metaphor for the adjacent Montelago Village, where restaurants such as Luna Rossa and Mimi &Coco Bistro were open but quiet. But the closer one got to the docks for Lake Las Vegas Water Sports, the more people were around on both land and water, in boats and kayaks and on stand-up paddleboards.

Inside Seasons Grocery &Deli, supervisor Angela Goodbar said the area actually had stayed pretty busy even during the shutdown.

“There’s a lot of people who want to get away from everything,” Goodbar said. “There were a little bit too many people because they had to shut down the green areas,” as evidenced by signs posted around the village.

At Johnny Mac’s Sports Bar &Grill at 842 S. Boulder Highway in Henderson, where the dining room reopened Saturday, owner Johnny McGinty said business had been steady. In accordance with the new regulations, the restaurant is taking reservations, with people calling in to get the best time to arrive.

“Doesn’t the place look great?” McGinty asked, sweeping his hand to indicate the dining room, which had a refreshed, bright look.

‘Sick of being home’

That was the case, as well, at The Pasta Shop Ristorante &Art Gallery at 2525 W. Horizon Ridge Parkway in Henderson, where owner Ann Alenik said they had spent the shutdown time painting tables and otherwise refreshing the place. On Saturday evening, she said all of her reservations were spoken for.

“It’s tough to have eight or nine tables,” she said. “I used to have 17.” But she said the limited capacity might be a blessing in disguise because they still were doing a lot of takeout business in addition to dine-in.

At one of the tables in the dining room, Lisa Hogan was dining with her husband, Ken, and another couple. A longtime customer, she said she had no trepidation about dining in.

“We were sick of being at home,” she said.

Saturday evening, the scenes in three Rampart Boulevard shopping centers were very different. Tivoli Village was nearly deserted, as none of its restaurants has reopened their dining rooms yet. The same for Rampart Commons, where Honey Salt, Flower Child, North Italia and P.F. Chang’s continued to serve curbside customers, but the mood was calm and mellow.

Just across the street, however, Boca Park was festive and active, powered by Grimaldi’s Pizzeria, Hussong’s Cantina and Kona Grill offering dine-in dinner options and going strong. Grimaldi’s had filled all of the reservations for its eight indoor tables, but more than half were being held for guests who preferred to call from the parking lot to book a spot.

At Kona Grill, last-minute arrivals weren’t so lucky, with a manager reporting that all of the weekend’s reservations had been taken before noon. The response to the reopening was so good, in fact, that Kona’s team spent much of Saturday spacing out tables on their upstairs patio, which they plan to open Sunday.

‘Tipping like crazy’

At Hussong’s Cantina, the customers seemed evenly distributed between the dining room and the patio.

Co-owner Brian Mangino said he sometimes had to put walk-ups on a waiting list, but tables were turning quickly, and customers were in excellent spirits.

“People are so excited to get out of their house right now that they’d think everything was unbelievable, even if it wasn’t good,” Mangino joked. “They’re tipping like crazy. They’re super-generous. They couldn’t be happier right now.”

Outside, on Hussong’s patio, customer Renee Thomas echoed his sentiments. In fact, she said she “was so excited to be out” that she’d forgotten her face mask. Nonetheless, she said, safety is essential to getting back to some semblance of normality.

“I think it’s great that we’re beginning to trust each other again,” Thomas said. “And I just think it’s a matter of us taking precautions and trying to be as safe as we can.”


Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter. Contact Al Mancini at amancini@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlManciniVegas on Twitter and Instagram.

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