Door of Ivy and Coney displaying vaccination requirements
Ivy and Coney in Shaw displays its requirements for entry on the door Credit: Laura Hayes

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Before heading to Ivy and Coney to shadow the team working the door on the first night the Shaw bar required proof of vaccination, I brushed up on the conflict deescalation strategies I learned earlier in the pandemic. Hospitality organizations hosted workshops where staff could learn how to protect themselves from hot heads who act out.

Look around for objects that could potentially be used as weapons, like pint glasses.

Notice who else is around and consider making eye contact with a coworker so they can keep an eye on you.

Use an assertive tone and clasp your hands in front of your body.

Twitter users trolled some of the 21 bars and restaurants in D.C. that publicized their new proof-of-vaccination policies, saying they would go out of business. Some critics may not even live in the District, but Ivy and Coney co-owner Chris Powers was still a little nervous.

Powers backed up Pat Adams Jr., his door man with 20 years of experience, on Friday night just in case there was friction. He says he does this any time he implements a new procedure involving employees. Bars and restaurants throughout the District implemented proof-of-vaccination policies this month citing the highly contagious delta variant and rising COVID-19 cases in the region.

“With how much rhetoric there is about it, I’m glad my fears were unfounded,” Powers says. “I haven’t been called a communist yet, so that’s great.” 

My deescalation research was all for naught. Nineteen of the 20 people who shuffled up the stairs at the dive bar had their vaccine proof ready for inspection during the first hour I observed Adams and Powers. No one made a fuss, not even the one patron who fumbled for documentation for 10 minutes before giving up and leaving. 

“We tried to put it out there as much as we could, but it’s the internet so you never know how many people read it,” Powers says. “It seems like most people were aware of the policy. Those that weren’t didn’t seem dissuaded.”

Adams wasn’t worried about enforcement. “It’s just another thing,” he says. “Everything is nice and smooth. I like to go with the flow—well, not with everything—but if this is what I gotta do, it’s not that big of a deal.” He and Powers expressed some trepidation about learning to spot fake cards. “We just have to trust that people who make the effort to show something are probably vaccinated,” Powers says.

Photo of Pat Adams Jr. by Laura Hayes

The bar’s new form of a beer-and-shot combo went over well. About a dozen people said they chose to visit Ivy and Coney Friday night plans because of the new policy. You could tell there were smiles behind masks when patrons produced their vaccine cards by the way the corners of their eye’s crinkled. Some even said thank you.

A majority of Ivy and Coney patrons showed their original cards, with edges frayed from stuffing the awkward document into narrow wallets. Powers calls this move “living on the edge” and urges everyone to make sure they have a photo back up of their original card. His pro tip is to add the card photo to a note in the “notes” app on iPhones. A few pulled up their electronic vaccination record.

John Guggenmos, who co-owns Trade and Number Nine, has a larger sample size from which to draw conclusions about how proof-of-vaccine policies are going over locally because his Logan Circle bars started requiring it a week earlier. D.C.’s queer bars were among the first to make the move.

Like Powers, Guggenmos was on site day one. “Hands down, people were supporting it,” he says. “They were taking pictures, tweeting to their friends, and saying, ‘It’s about time—thank you for doing it.’ People had to fumble around some. They weren’t ready, but there was no hesitation. It was more like, ‘Crap, where is it?'”

“Anonymous people on Twitter will say whatever they want,” Guggenmos continues. “But even that was such the exception and the positive overwhelmed it 40 to 1. I did not hear a single complaint and the staff said the same.”

Justin Parker, who co-owns The Dirty Goose, echoes Guggenmos. “We really haven’t seen any pushback,” he says. “A few comments on Instagram and Google reviews have been negative, but we take those with a grain of salt. We have had very few people argue and if they do they just end up leaving and they aren’t our regulars.”

Count couple Travis McIntyre and Liz McLaughlin as two of the customers who went to Ivy and Coney because they read about the new rule. “It’s a good public policy,” McIntyre says. “It will help contain the increase in cases if you have to be vaccinated to go inside and be in a place where you have your mask off with strangers you don’t know.” 

A new mask mandate took effect July 31 in D.C. that requires people to wear masks when they’re indoors. The mayor’s order says you must wear a mask inside bars and restaurants when you’re not actively eating and drinking. But the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration said it would only fine establishments if customers were permitted to enter without masks on. Perhaps mask mandates are harder to police when patrons aren’t required to be seated and socially distant.

“The delta variant is scary and the numbers are increasing and I think everybody should be watching it carefully,” McLaughlin adds. “I hate associating with people and being nervous after the fact. Early in the pandemic that was so common and I hated that. That’s why we sought [Ivy and Coney] out.”

Molly M. came for the same reason. “I think it will encourage more people to get vaccinated, which is ultimately the goal,” she says. “I’m really excited and proud that Ivy and Coney is doing this.”

Others took pause. Samantha Jacobson, who has worked in hospitality, says she’s concerned about the onus checking for proof of vaccination puts on managers because it could create “sticky situations.” She also empathizes with people who aren’t vaccinated because of medical conditions. “I feel like it’s a privilege that I have the vaccine and I can just do anything, but I understand for some folks that could be challenging,” she says. “I think there should be an option to either wear a mask or show proof of vaccination.” 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say there are vaccine equity issues involving “social, geographic, political, economic, and environmental factors” that hinder vaccination such as gaps in healthcare access, transportation issues, and lack of trust.

“Some Black or African American people and Hispanic or Latino people are less likely to be vaccinated against COVID-19 than people in other racial and ethnic minority groups and non-Hispanic White people,” the CDC says.

City Paper explored why Black residents were having trouble accessing the vaccine in D.C. when appointments first opened up. The vaccine has since become more widely available. About 64 percent of the population in D.C. is at least partially vaccinated.

To be as inclusive as possible, some of the bars that require proof of vaccination will also accept recent negative COVID-19 test results, including Ivy and Coney, Trade, Number Nine, and The Dirty Goose. “I think that’s valid as well,” Jacobson says. “We should give people as many avenues as possible.”

Photo of a sign outside Ivy and Coney by Laura Hayes

Dining or drinking indoors, even at places that require proof of vaccination, isn’t a no-risk activity. Vaccines reduce the risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19, making them a critical shield. But breakthrough cases can occur in vaccinated people in rare instances. Vaccinated individuals can also spread the virus.

Most new cases of COVID-19 are occurring in pockets of the population that are unvaccinated. Some jurisdictions are mulling universal mandates that would require proof of vaccination for indoor activities as a tool to convince more residents to take the shot.

New York City is the first to actually do it. Starting Aug. 16, Big Apple restaurant workers and customers will have to prove they’ve received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. “If you want to participate in our society fully, you’ve got to get vaccinated,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at an Aug. 3 press conference. 

McIntyre thinks Mayor Muriel Bowser should implement a similar policy locally. “I saw Bowser said she was looking into it when somebody asked her,” he says. “She was noncommittal, but she didn’t say no. I think she should absolutely do that.” 

While she was reopening the Walter E. Washington Convention Center last week, Bowser vowed to “read all about” New York City’s latest move: “I think that we are entering a different and new phase of this pandemic—a phase, unfortunately, that we hoped to avoid by more people getting vaccinated earlier so the virus didn’t mutate. I can assure you that the District is going to evaluate anything that works for D.C.”

Powers says a vaccine mandate that levels the playing field would make operations easier. “Any time you have a patchwork of rules from restaurant to restaurant it just makes it a little more difficult for the customers so a universal situation, I think, would make our lives easier,” he says. “But at this point—short of the mayor implementing a universal mandate—I think every bar needs to make the decision that they need to make to move forward and stay open.”