State has accused 34 bars of violating governor’s COVID-19 mitigation orders

At least 34 Iowa bars have been accused of failing to comply with COVID-19 mitigation measures ordered by the governor. (Creative Commons photo via Pxhere)

Last September, six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, a state inspector visited Kelly’s Little Nipper, a Des Moines tavern and restaurant.

Although it was only 10:30 in the morning, the inspector, who worked for the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, noted that the tavern didn’t appear to be complying with the governor’s orders on COVID-19 mitigation.

In his report, the inspectors wrote: “Observed guest at the bar served two drinks without being served food. Bartender stated, when asked, “he usually orders food to go before he leaves.” … Person in charge, based on discussion, not limiting patrons from congreged [sic] together.”

The inspector referred the case to the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division, which sent two of its compliance officers to Kelly’s Little Nipper at 9:30 that evening. Inside the bar, a band was playing, and although the establishment’s capacity was 30 people, the compliance officers later reported they counted 37 customers inside. They also reported seeing patrons lined up three deep at the bar, not eating food, and not social distancing. They took photos, allegedly showing the vast majority of patrons were listening to the band, drinking alcohol and socializing.

The owner of the bar, Jeffrey Stark, was later fined $1,000 by the division.

During the past year of pandemic-related closures and business restrictions, at least 34 Iowa bars and restaurants have been accused by the state of failing to comply with COVID-19 mitigation measures.

Many of the enforcement actions by the Alcoholic Beverages Division were taken after the agency’s July 30 announcement that it would be stepping up efforts to enforce compliance with Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proclamations regarding social distancing and other mitigation efforts to be taken in Iowa bars, restaurants and other food establishments.

The governor’s proclamations varied, but at different times they required the establishments to either eliminate on-the-premises operations or keep at least 6 feet between each group or individual dining or drinking. Some of the proclamations have also required customers to be seated at a table or bar, or required the establishments to restrict patrons from gathering in groups that didn’t adhere to the 6 feet of separation rule.

Between March 17 and July 29, the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division fielded 147 complaints — an average of just over one per day — about Iowa bars and restaurants violating laws and orders related to COVID-19 mitigation.

Between July 30 and September 8, the ABD fielded 229 such complaints, an average of 5.7 complaints per day.

Due to the threat posed by the pandemic, the ABD conducted only one inspection between March 17 and July 29, but in the five weeks after the governor’s July 30 proclamation, the agency performed 617 inspections and launched 229 investigations related to COVID-19 mitigation.

One of the alleged violators is John Archer, owner of Kelly O’Shea’s Shamrock Pub and Grille in Burlington. The division alleged that the tavern violated Reynolds’ March 17 proclamation that ordered all restaurants and bars closed to the public except for carry-out, drive-through and delivery sales.

According to the ABD, four hours after that order took effect, the Burlington police chief and another city police officer went to the Shamrock in response to a complaint and saw roughly 20 customers inside the bar. They informed Archer of the governor’s order and asked him to stop serving customers. Court records indicate Archer told the police chief he wasn’t going to comply with the governor’s proclamation and would remain open for business.

Four hours later, the police chief returned to the bar and saw the staff was continuing to serve customers who were eating and drinking on the premises. Archer was issued a citation for a misdemeanor violation of a public health order. He later pleaded guilty to the charge and was fined $65.

As part of a settlement agreement, the division agreed not to impose on Archer a proposed 21-day license suspension in consideration of the fact that Archer had brought the tavern “into complete and continuing compliance” with the governor’s proclamation and had acknowledged his ongoing obligation remain in compliance.

Here’s a look at all of the Iowa bars and taverns alleged by the division to have violated governor’s orders:

  • Pour Bastards Pub, Newton: $1,000 civil penalty
  • Cube Ultra Lounge, Council Bluffs: Final action still pending
  • Jalapeno Bar & Grill, Eagle Grove: $1,000 civil penalty
  • Whiskey River, Ankeny: $1,000 civil penalty
  • Sneakers, Fort Dodge: $1000 civil penalty and a 7-day license suspension
  • The O Face, Council Bluffs: Final action still pending
  • The Dingus Lounge, Knoxville: $1,000 civil penalty
  • Boji Nights, Arnolds Park: $1,000 civil penalty
  • Shotgun Betty’s, West Des Moines: $1,000 civil penalty
  • Xcaret Club and Lounge, West Des Moines: $1,000 civil penalty
  • Bonnie’s Scenic Tavern, Clinton: Final action still pending
  • Bo-James, Iowa City: 2-day license suspension
  • Edos, Waterloo: $1,000 civil penalty
  • Knights of Pythias, Waterloo: Final action still pending
  • Barefoot Bar, Spirit Lake: Final action still pending
  • Kelly O’Shea’s Shamrock Pub and Grille, Burlington: Proposed 21-day license suspension was stayed pending “continued compliance” with the governor’s proclamations.
  • Pints Pub ‘n Patio, Des Moines: $1,000 civil penalty
  • Mary Lou’s Bar & Grill, Cedar Falls: $1,000 civil penalty
  • Rodeo Saloon and Barbecue, Council Bluffs: $1,000 civil penalty
  • George’s Pizza, Nevada: Complaint dismissed by the state
  • Latitude 41, Polk City: Complaint dismissed by the state
  • The Sports Page, Mason City: $1,000 civil penalty
  • Players, Iowa City: $1,000 civil penalty
  • Copper Cup, Des Moines: 2-day license suspension
  • Kelly’s Little Nipper, Des Moines: $1,000 civil penalty
  • The Stuffed Olive & Voodoo Lounge, Des Moines: $1,000 civil penalty
  • Whiskey River, Ames: $1,000 civil penalty
  • Beer Can Alley and The Exchange, Des Moines: $1,000 civil penalty
  • American Outlaws, Des Moines: 2-day license suspension
  • Mason-Dixon Saloon, Dubuque: $1,000 civil penalty
  • AJ’s Ultra Lounge, Ames: $1,000 civil penalty
  • Main Street Social, Dubuque: $1,000 civil penalty
  • 1st & Main, Dubuque: $1,000 civil penalty
  • The Pine Room, Guthrie Center: $1,000 civil penalty