After violating Philadelphia's COVID-19 restrictions and enduring nearly a week of temporary forced closure, Smokey Joe’s, which normally welcomes throngs of Penn students in a night, has reopened with tighter restrictions in place.
The bar, known by students as 'Smokes,' was forced to close on Jan. 29 by order of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, which mandates that restaurants limit party size to four people of the same household or fewer, enforce mask-wearing, and maintain a 25% capacity for indoor seating.
The closure came after an anonymous tip was sent to the health department that included pictures of unmasked guests and tables of more than four people, Smokes' general manager Paul Ryan said.
The Philadelphia Department of Public Health declined a request for comment.
Though Ryan said he fully cooperated with the health department after receiving the complaint, he stressed the difficulty of adhering to the city’s 25% capacity guidelines, while restaurants in Pennsylvania outside of the Philadelphia area can seat up to 50% capacity.
“I understand steps have to be taken, but some of the restrictions seem a little extreme,” Ryan said. “We’re trying our best here, as a small, family-owned business”.
In response to its closure, Smokes is tightening up some its policies, including closing off several of its booths to have greater social distancing measures and extending the hours of its doormen to enforce the capacity limitations.
Ryan stressed the necessity for local guests to adhere to the bar policies, stating that they understand the health risks restaurants and bars pose during a pandemic.
“These places are breeding grounds if people aren’t behaving properly,” Ryan said. “We’re trying our best to maintain the rules, keep everyone safe, and provide a safe space to eat and drink. And, there’s also a responsibility on the customer to actually obey the rules.”
A Penn sophomore, who wished to remain anonymous in fear of peer judgement, said while at Smokes in December 2020, they noticed that "all the tables were full" and that while nobody was moving around, the indoor tables were not properly distanced from each other according to city guidelines.
Like Ryan, they acknowledged the duty of both Smokes and its customers in creating a COVID-19-safe environment.
"It's Smokes' responsibility to protect [its] customers, but also people going to Smokes are probably aware that there's at least a little risk," the sophomore said.
The sophomore also expressed worry about the sustainability of Smokes' financial future, adding that they see the restaurant as an essential part of the Penn community.
"At the end of the day I worry about the long-term viability of Smokes," the sophomore said. "It's such a staple."
Smokes, like other local restaurants, is experiencing financial struggles during the pandemic and has applied to receive federal aid through the Paycheck Protection Program. Ryan insisted that students' patronage is essential to preserving the restaurant, and encouraged students to continue coming in.
“We’re taking this all very seriously, and we hope to see you guys out here,” Ryan said.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.