Los Angeles restaurants and nightlife gearing up for Omicron Surge – The Hollywood Reporter


Just as the LA hotel industry began to recover from the latest wave of the COVID-19 virus, restaurants and nightlife venues are bracing for the effects of the burgeoning omicron variant and considering the possibility of further restrictions.

Almost two years after the start of the pandemic, closed doors and canceled reservations are familiar occurrences. But with the omicron sweeping the country – accounting for 73% of new positive infections in the United States last week and more than 3,500 cases in Los Angeles County, according to the county health department – the owners of company determine the best way to prepare. Some make immediate changes while others take a wait-and-see approach, keeping a close eye on news and reservation books.

Mary Sue Milliken, chef and co-owner of the Downtown Border Grill and Santa Monica Socalo, says sales fell more than 20% over the weekend. She has also seen an increase in requests to eat out.

“The biggest drop is just for walk-in activities, spur of the moment,” said Milliken. “I think people are more like, ‘Hmm, maybe I should stay home.’ She hopes to see an increase in take-out orders and meal kits. “I hope this will be a short-lived peak,” she said.

In the meantime, the chef says she is worried about her staff, even if they are all vaccinated and boosted and wear masks at all times. Earlier in the pandemic, a nurse came to the restaurant once a week to test employees, and Milliken plans to restart the practice.

“I really don’t know what to expect from one day to the next,” said Milliken. “I have woken up for the past three days with a bit of a stomach ache. It’s just worry, but I’m like ‘Ugh! I don’t want to be back here.

Ronan’s Melrose Avenue co-owner Caitlin Cutler says the restaurant has yet to see an increase in cancellations, but the team is bracing for the wave nonetheless.

“We’re trying to make alternative plans for whatever comes our way, whether it’s positive COVID cases among staff or the government is reimposing restrictions,” Cutler said. “For the past couple of years it was in the beast’s nature to roll with the punches, so we have strategies to deal with these situations if they arise,” including the ability to limit seating at the heated outdoor terrace of the restaurant. “I guess January will be slower than usual, but if that protects our staff, I’m glad it does.”

Elsewhere in Santa Monica, at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel and Bungalows, general manager Sam Jagger also says offering outdoor dining options to those who feel more comfortable in an open-air setting is one way to manage. the unpredictable COVID climate. For now, he says, omicron has not affected bookings, which he attributes to lessons learned from the latest wave.

“The latest wave of COVID has had no noticeable impact on business, which can be partially attributed to the high vaccination rate in LA County, coupled with ongoing travel requirements and robust testing,” said Jagger, adding: “We do not anticipate any dramatic precautions and mandates as defined by LA Public Health, but our protocols provide a solid foundation for continuing operations safely with minimal disruption.”

Christy Vega, owner of Casa Vega, says regular bookings continue, but omicron recently had an impact on bookings for big events at the retro Mexican restaurant. “We saw big events and corporate parties come undone last week,” said Vega. “It’s a shame because the restaurants were still struggling to get back on their feet.”

Casa Vega’s annual New Years party will not feature its usual midnight show, complete with dancers and entertainment. “We canceled those arrangements, simultaneously reserving them for next year,” said Vega. “We will always be open to celebrate, but we encourage a much gentler environment for our diners. “

Lisa Olin, owner of Cake Monkey Bakery in Mid-City, says that in light of the new variant, she is reducing the number of customers allowed inside their store. “We’re also putting limits on orders so that we can make sure we can fill everything due to the limited staff many restaurants and food businesses are facing right now,” she said.

In Hollywood, plans have also evolved rapidly. The first film to cancel its red carpet premiere this month was Cyrano, who dropped their Dec. 16 event due to “the changing COVID landscape”. On Monday, several others followed suit: the Palm Springs International Film Society’s Film Awards gala – scheduled for January 6 and to honor a star-studded crowd including Kristen Stewart, Lady Gaga, Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Hudson and the cast of Belfast and king richard – has been cancelled; The annual BAFTA Tea Party on January 8 has also been canceled and the AFI Awards luncheon, scheduled for January 7, has been postponed to a later date. On Tuesday, the Hollywood Critics Association postponed its HCA Film Awards, scheduled for Jan.8 at Avalon Hollywood, to Feb.28.

And with the industry already expected to be largely without a red carpet for the last two weeks of 2021, the hiatus will be extended. Hulu has canceled its event for the film Sexual appeal January 10, originally scheduled at NeueHouse Hollywood. The streamer also canceled a first screening and reception for How i met your father, set for January 12.

Along with the many TV premieres still on the schedule for early January, the variant now calls into question the viability of the Critics Choice Awards, currently slated for an in-person return on January 9 at the Fairmont Century Plaza; the National Review Board Awards Gala in New York on January 11; and the Grammys on January 31.

Overall, the hospitality industry has yet to take such swift action. David Cooley, owner and founder of West Hollywood staple The Abbey, says guests seem worried but still anxious to get out. “We continue to see our regulars and newcomers, travelers and locals celebrate the holiday season with fun, whether outside on the patio or inside for dinner and drinks,” Cooley said. . “We’re a lot busier than last year and that lets us know how far we’ve come as a community. “

Cooley adds that the restaurant and bar continue to require masks and proof of vaccination and “if more stringent precautions are required, we will also follow these protocols and do whatever is necessary to keep our community safe.”

Cyrus Batchan, owner of the bar and restaurant at Koreatown Lock and Key, took a more aggressive approach. While he hasn’t seen a dramatic drop in business, he has decided to close the venue this upcoming holiday weekend after seeing New York’s omicron numbers.

“Normally I would be open on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day is always the public holiday, and we are always open Boxing Day. But this week, just based on everything that’s going on, I just said it’s better to take those three days and take a hard break, ”he says.

Batchan acknowledges that total closure is still a possibility and is awaiting advice from the city on how to proceed.

Julia Diamond, director of Grand Park, spoke about the decision to cancel the annual New Years Eve celebration in downtown LA, saying the organization had taken into consideration “so many factors that affect public gatherings in this regard. time and all messages coming out of the county public health. department.”

The park, which is operated by the Music Center and typically hosts around 75,000 people at its New Years Eve event, had previously reduced attendance to an invitation-only group of 5,000 frontline workers and county first responders. of the. But given the latest numbers, Diamond says his team has decided to prioritize home viewing. The event will be produced as broadcast and available to stream on Fuse and the Grand Park YouTube channel at 11:00 PM PST on December 31, 2021. Star Kinky and other announced musical artists will still be on the schedule, as well. that the projection of the signature countdown of the event on the town hall.

For now, all eyes are on next year as Los Angeles waits to see if it experiences the same sort of alarming number of cases New York has seen since last week.

“We’re just trying not to stress too much as Christmas approaches,” says Cutler of Ronan. “We have all deserved this vacation and we try to make sure our staff are safe and enjoying their vacation plans.”

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