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Bars serving strictly alcohol 'very elated,' welcome long-awaited green light to reopen

BARS REOPENING.transfer_frame_1160.jpg
Pictured: Casablanca Tobacco Bar in Biltmore Village. Gov. Roy Cooper's newest executive order that eases many restrictions went into effect Friday, allowing bars to reopen indoors at 30% capacity with a cap of 250 people for the first time since near the beginning of the pandemic. (Photo credit: WLOS Staff)

Bar operator across Asheville that strictly serve alcohol aren’t plentiful. But those that do -- and focus on serving hard liquor from scotch to craft cocktails -- are happy this particular Friday night, Feb. 26, has finally come.

Gov. Roy Cooper's newest executive order that eases many restrictions went into effect Friday, allowing bars to reopen indoors at 30% capacity with a cap of 250 people for the first time since near the beginning of the pandemic.

On-site alcohol sales will now have to end at 11 p.m. instead of 9 p.m. starting Friday, too.

“We’re very, very elated,” said Tim Rayburn, district manager for the Casablanca Tobacco Bar in Biltmore Village. “We did a lot of work Thursday night.”

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Casablanca opened Friday at 5 p.m. after nearly a year closed.

“We’ve lost a lot of staff but we’re hopeful for this year ahead," Rayburn said. "We can have 21 patrons at 30% occupancy.”

Gov. Roy Cooper’s latest executive order allowing bars also to stay open until 11 p.m. Bars like Sovereign Remedies in Asheville were allowed to open last Fall because the bar also serves food.

Montford's Little Jumbo Cocktail Bar and lounge has also been closed for nearly a year -- but the neighborhood watering hole isn’t ready to open yet.

“We found out on Wednesday afternoon,” said Lucia Gray, a co-owner of Little Jumbo. “Despite being open for to-go cocktails, it's not the same thing as resurrecting a business that's been closed for nearly a year."

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"We want to do it right and that takes a little more planning than two days," Gray added.

Jess Mills, co-owner of Off The Wagon Dueling Piano Bar has temporarily changed its name to “bottle shop" rather than "bar," which means it only serves bottled beer and wine. It allowed the piano bar to open last December at 50% occupancy.

“Being closed nine months, we went through all our savings and every loan," Mills said. "We were looking for anything we could do and we found out we could open as a bottle shop. That allowed us to make enough money to pay the worst of the bills.”

Mills, like other bar owners, is hopeful for the future.

“Many bars went bankrupt," she said. "We’re hoping the worst is behind us.”

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