No Vax, No Booze

More and more California restaurants and bars are requiring patrons to show proof of Covid-19 vaccination. One Sacramento nightclub is sticking to its policy, whether you like it or not.

no vax, no booze
Justin Sullivan

Marina Texeira was so sick of getting anti-vax hate messages on social media she stopped speaking to the press. A few weeks earlier, on July 16, 2021, the third-generation owner of Sacramento’s Torch Club had started to require all of her patrons to wear a mask and show proof of COVID-19 vaccination. Like many businesses who’d instituted this practice, Texeira’s nightclub was featured in the local news.

The Torch Club’s social media channels quickly filled with vitriol. “I got a lot of hate mail, some threats, that kind of thing,” says Texeira. “Someone called the club, and my bartender asked to take a message. [The caller] said I should get a gun and shoot myself. I was very full of anxiety for a couple of weeks.”

It’s been a long pandemic road for Texeira, whose nightlife business was shuttered for 15 months. When Governor Gavin Newsom reopened California’s economy and removed all pandemic closure rules on June 15, 2021, Texeira opened the Torch Club’s door for the first time since the pandemic began, no masks and no vax status required. But with the sudden surge in COVID cases due to the highly contagious Delta variant, Texeira had to rethink the plan for her indoor-only business. “I just wanted to get ahead of it because I could see the numbers,” she says of the rising infection rates. “I knew we were going to have to do something so we didn’t become a super-spreader.”

This essay was adapted from the Alta newsletter, delivered every Thursday.
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Texeira asked her security team, the club’s bouncers, to require proof of vaccination from each guest. In the first days of this new rule, she joined her staff at the front door. “There’s a little learning curve with people, showing them the state site where they can pull up their proof,” she says of her policy. “We’ll even allow a 72-hour test. We’re trying to be as accommodating as we can, but we don’t have any wiggle room.”

The Torch Club’s regulars are mostly fine with the requirement, even happy about it. It’s the rare foot-traffic customer who can prove problematic. On her first weekend of asking for proof of vaccination, Texeira encountered a range of reactions. “One gentleman just turned around and walked away, flipping the bird with both hands,” she says.

People, many of whom likely have no intention of ever visiting the Torch Club, can be more cruel from behind their keyboards. “They called me a Nazi. They called me a whore. They said they hoped that my business would shut down,” she says. “I read enough [messages] to know I can’t read this.”

About 90 miles west, the management of Canela Bistro & Wine Bar in San Francisco’s Castro District faced the same status requirement decision as Texeira. Though the staff were initially nervous, they have been pleasantly surprised by their patrons’ willingness to comply. Customers have not only had no problem saying if they were vaccinated, says owner Mat Schuster, “they seemed happy that we were asking the question.”

Paul Iglesias, Canela’s front-of-house manager, agrees. “They have zero issues,” he says of his diners. “They simply want to know if they need to show it on their phone or show the card itself.”

And when someone isn’t vaccinated or didn’t bring their card? “There was a situation in which someone had requested to be indoors and they forgot their card, so they had to sit outside,” Iglesias says. “They were very gracious.”

Canela Bistro & Wine Bar is just one of dozens of San Francisco Bay Area restaurants and bars to require proof of vaccination. In fact, vax status is becoming so commonplace in dining out that Eater SF has a roundup of regional spots that require patron vaccination. L.A. Taco maintains a similar (and quickly growing) list for like-minded spots in Los Angeles.

Just a few weeks into the practice of asking for proof of vaccination, some business owners are sick of talking about it.

“We’re not giving any interviews,” said one Los Angeles bar owner via email. “This issue is just too hot and we’re not about that. Just trying to do what we feel is right and protect our staff. People are free to their opinions.”

Requiring proof of vaccination for entry isn’t an easy decision for any business owner, but for those not in historically liberal cities, even in California, the move can be scary, expensive, and isolating. COVID, mask mandates, and vaccinations have become politically polarizing issues, despite the basic and undisputed facts of this pandemic.

For example, one Huntington Beach restaurant has gone viral (figuratively, if not literally) for claiming it refuses to admit vaccinated guests.

As one of the first in the Sacramento area to ask for vaccination status, Texeira felt especially targeted by anti-vaxxers—so much so that last week, the Sacramento resident ventured to San Francisco’s Buena Vista, a tourist hot spot near Ghirardelli Square that also requires proof of vaccination, to feel less alone. “It’s such a different mentality,” she notes. “Everyone is more progressive in San Francisco.”

Maybe that’s true, but the tide is turning in the state capital. Luna’s Cafe, the Russ Room, and others in Sacramento are all now requiring proof of vaccination to enter. More and more Californians are expecting to be asked for vax status and seeking out establishments that practice the rule. Two weeks after the middle-finger man, Texeira isn’t nearly as alone as she once was.•

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