Back in July, ownership at Replay Lincoln Park told staff they were mandating vaccines for their team of about 30. Owner Mark Kwiatkowski says it was the right thing to do as the bar, known for its pop culture pop-ups, continued to operate. Finally, after months the stragglers consented and bar ownership turned their attention toward customers. On September 23, Replay began requiring proof of vaccination and masks for entry.
Kwiatkowski says he isn’t sure if it was due to poor communication, but his customers didn’t get the message. Last week, Kwiatkowski says his staff turned away about 40 customers a day. On the weekend, that number inflated to 100 costing Replay “tens of thousands of dollars,” Kwiatkowski says.
Communicating policies to the public is yet another new obstacle the bar and restaurant industry is dealing with during the pandemic. Staff had to determine if customers were properly wearing masks and social distancing. There’s no overarching guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or local government. Replay used Facebook posts to get the word out to customers; there are no posts mentioning the mandate on its Instagram accounts. As marketers will tell their clients this week after the Facebook outage, no social media network is perfect.
Without a formal policy, industry members are vulnerable to verbal and online abuse. Kwiatkowski says Replay’s policy has been met with the classic cliched chestnut of unvaccinated customers accusing him and his staff of being Nazis, using fascist iconography online. Kwiatkowski still says the majority of reactions have been positive.
“I do believe there’s a significant percentage of people that appreciate the fact they’re amongst the vaccinated and that they’re safer,” he says.
Kwiatkowski realizes that not everyone can be vaccinated, but hopes that the country’s COVID-19 outlook soon improves so Replay can welcome all potential customers. After talking to his staff about alternatives, including allowing those with vaccine proof entry if they agreed to wear a mask, Kwiatkowski says they’re going to keep their vaccine policy intact. Kwiatkowski, who loves a good gimmick, instead will offer two shots for $2 for those who show proof. These are rotating specials (with the current being Three Olives vanilla vodka and strawberry liqueur with a splash of sweet and sour).
Kwiatkowski is a bar owner familiar with the LGBTQ community on Northalsted, which boasts one of the city’s highest vaccination rates. In August, the Market Days festival even set up vaccination booths onsite. Kwiatkowski says most of the bars north of Halsted and Belmont require vaccines: “I think it’s helped them,” he says.
But after 18 months of applying for grants and trying to keep its doors open — even drawing celebrity ire at one point — Kwiatkowski is hurt by trying to do “the right thing.” The days around Halloween are typically some of the busiest for this bars. He says he’s already spent too much money on props for his Halloween-themed Slasher Museum (a tribute to Hollywood horror films) pop-up. He hopes fans will “get their vaccines if they haven’t already and then come and support what we are doing.”