New restrictions bring changes to Broad Ripple

Marion County bars have been forced to close for the second time due to the coronavirus pandemic and restaurant owners are facing changes, too.

INDIANAPOLIS — The decision to shut down Marion County bars again to stem the spread of COVID-19 is no doubt upsetting to a number of bar owners and patrons.

But the owner of Rock Lobster in Broad Ripple applauds the move.

“It’s probably necessary, at least for the time being,” Rob Sabatini said.

Sabatini made the decision to temporarily close Rock Lobster Wednesday, unaware of Thursday’s announcement by Mayor Joe Hogsett.

He said getting patrons to wear a mask and social distance in his large, open nightclub was “impossible to do,” explaining “if you have a drink in your hand you don’t have to wear a mask, so that takes out 90 percent of the people.”

Sabatini said if someone sat at the bar, “they’d have five people around them, so it was a real challenge and too much stress, too much to put on the staff to handle. I wanted to keep everyone safe and healthy.”

Friday, the manager of Landsharks, a bar just a few doors down from Rock Lobster, tested positive for COVID-19.

Two employees told 13News they felt the bar was lax in adhering to safety guidelines, putting them and customers at risk, allegations the owner said were “absolutely false.”

Still, 13News saw no signs alerting customers to the rules on social distancing and wearing masks. In addition, employees said not everyone was told of the diagnosis, including customers.

A bartender said, “This is not a cold, not the sniffles…if you know something is wrong, you have to say something.”

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But spokespersons for both the Marion County and state health departments there is currently no requirement to alert customers, even though it’s encouraged.

Restaurants, meantime, which were operating at 75% capacity, must now scale back to 50% and close by midnight.

Jessie Beasley, manager of Cholita, said he’s OK with that.

“It fits our timeline. We close early and we’re very happy to have outdoor seating. It’s given people more confidence to come out” to eat, Beasley said.

Like Mass Ave, Broad Ripple Avenue has been closed to traffic since late May, allowing restaurants to expand their outdoor space.

Thursday morning, public works crews were replacing the plastic barriers surrounding each restaurant’s expanded dining area with concrete barriers. 

Starting Friday, that allows one lane to open to eastbound traffic from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. at the discretion of police.

One of the reasons is to deter the large groups of people who gather in the wee hours of the morning near the intersection of Broad Ripple Avenue and Guilford, most not wearing face masks or social distancing.

Colleen Fanning, who heads the Broad Ripple Village Association said, “There’s growing concern from residents, the BRVA and IMPD because the crowds continue to increase and become more unmanageable.”

Fanning said it’s become a “public safety issue” and that opening one lane when needed will allow police “to be more effective in dispersing crowds.”

Broad Ripple Avenue, Mass Ave and Georgia Street are scheduled to be closed to all vehicular traffic (with the above exceptions) until at least Labor Day.