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News / Business / Clark County Business

Clark County venues plan for quiet New Year’s Eve amid virus restrictions

By Anthony Macuk, Columbian business reporter
Published: December 30, 2020, 6:03am
5 Photos
Manager Bre Belter pours rye whiskey into a jigger to pour into the &quot;Pony Boy&quot; cocktail at Rally Pizza in Vancouver. &quot;Pony Boy,&quot; which consists of rye whiskey, ginger liqueur, allspice dram and benedictine, is one of the store&#039;s most popular cocktails at $18 per jar.
Manager Bre Belter pours rye whiskey into a jigger to pour into the "Pony Boy" cocktail at Rally Pizza in Vancouver. "Pony Boy," which consists of rye whiskey, ginger liqueur, allspice dram and benedictine, is one of the store's most popular cocktails at $18 per jar. (Joshua Hart/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

A year ago, Clark County residents gearing up to celebrate the start of 2020 had no shortage of events and destinations to choose from. There was UnderBar’s “Ring in the Roaring ’20s” party, 38 Below’s “NYE Bash” and WareHouse ’23’s “Roaring into the ’20s” event, to name just a few.

In hindsight, maybe 2020 didn’t deserve such a warm welcome. It’s certainly not going to get the same kind of send-off.

A new wave of COVID-19 cases has prompted a return to semi-lockdown conditions in Washington, including a ban on all indoor restaurant service, which rules out any kind of big end-of-year party at most local venues.

“Nothing’s going to happen, at least on our end,” said UnderBar owner Kurt Van Orden.

The speakeasy-themed bar on Broadway has no outdoor seating, and Van Orden said he learned during the first lockdown that a takeout-only business model wasn’t viable for the bar either. When the new round of restrictions went into effect, he said he had no choice but to temporarily close his doors.

Van Orden said he plans to reopen once the current restrictions are lifted, but he didn’t want to try to organize a New Year’s event because it costs too much to restock and reopen the kitchen unless he can count on being able to stay open in the long term.

Rally Pizza on Mill Plain also has a history of New Year’s Eve celebrations, according to general manager Shan Wickham, usually with a special menu and a DJ table. The restaurant has been operating in takeout and delivery-only mode since March, and Wickham said she’ll stick with that on New Year’s, opting to close at 8 p.m.

“I certainly expect to still be very busy, given that folks will largely be staying home rather than heading out to bars or parties as they normally would. Or at least that’s what we hope will be the case,” she wrote in an email. “We’ll have some festive food and beverages so that the night should still feel fun and special at home!”

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The special menu will have a particular focus on pre-mixed cocktails, she said, which have proven to be some of Rally Pizza’s most popular takeout options.

The restrictions make any kind of WareHouse ’23 party unrealistic, according to owner Mark Matthias. His other restaurant, Beaches, will be open for regular service on Dec. 31 using a recently built tent seating area, but it wouldn’t be practical to put on any kind of New Year’s event aside from possibly a special menu offering.

“It’s really impossible unless you took your whole tent — which is all you have to work with, a tent outside, because you can’t have large gatherings or parties — so you’d end up with lots of individual parties of four under a tent, which I think would be really difficult to do,” he said.

Matthias said he does have one thing to look forward to about New Year’s Eve: it falls on a Thursday, which means it will be one of the designated nights for Savor the Couve, a weekly program organized by Visit Vancouver USA and the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce in which multiple restaurants team up to sell a limited number of five-course dinners for two.

The restaurant lineup changes each week; Beaches and Rally Pizza are both on the roster for Dec. 31. The weekly dinners run through the end of January, with 25 percent of the profits going to charitable organizations.

In Battle Ground, Sidelines — the rebranded name of 38 Below — is aiming for something a bit closer to a true New Year’s Eve event, albeit entirely outdoors using a seating area in the parking lot that Sidelines shares with its adjacent sister business, Playmakers Sports Bar.

The owners initially set up the outdoor space in May and have been gradually expanding and improving it, according to Payton Standfill, marketing director at Summerland Inc., the parent company of the two businesses.

The tented area now has room for a dozen tables, Standfill said, and the plan is to have TVs and a large heater in place for New Year’s Eve — although the countdown will need to be held ahead of schedule, because the current restrictions mandate an 11 p.m. closing time.

Despite the various creative approaches, most of the restaurant owners said they’d rather be putting on regular parties, and are looking forward to things being back to normal when it comes time to mark the start of 2022.

“It’s our first year at this,” Matthias said. “Let’s hope it’s our last.”

Columbian business reporter