Some San Jose bar owners requiring proof of vaccination
Marya and Paul Cunha, owners of 7 Stars Bar & Grill. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

    If you want to grab a drink in San Jose, you might soon have to show you got a COVID-19 shot — just like San Francisco.

    Haberdasher, a speakeasy-themed bar in downtown San Jose, announced a day after the state reopened it would require proof of vaccination to enter. A banner on the bar’s website reads, “No proof, no entry.”

    Owner Cache Bouren got the idea from a podcast that suggested business owners require checking vaccine cards at entry. When the state’s reopening date came near, he polled his workers to see if they supported the idea.

    “The second I brought it up, the entire crew was on board,” Bouren told San José Spotlight.

    While Bouren’s employees support the policy, patrons haven’t taken so kindly to it. He said he’s gotten threatening emails, and Haberdasher had its Yelp page shut down because of one-star reviews from customers unhappy with the bar’s requirement.

    In one instance, Bouren said he received a threatening phone call from a 20 plus-member biker gang who promised to show up—unvaccinated—daring the bar’s workers to stop them from entering.

    The gang never came.

    “I’m f—ing sick of these trolls,” Bouren said. “And it’s just people coming in making their stupid, politically motivated comments. For me, this has never been about politics. This is simply about protecting my staff’s health because, without them, I wouldn’t have a business at all. ”

    Cache Bouren shows off flair bartending, flipping glasses in the air and behind his back. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

    San Jose bars aren’t the only Bay Area watering holes requiring proof of vaccination upon entry.

    The San Francisco Bar Owner Alliance, a loose association of about 500 owners across approximately 300 bars, jointly made the decision Monday to require patrons to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to enter. Negative tests or vaccination cards aren’t required for people who sit outside.

    Each bar will be in charge of figuring out how to enforce the requirements, which could include asking patrons to show their vaccine cards or using California’s electronic vaccine verification system.

    Ben Bleiman, president of the bar alliance, said the decision—fueled by frustration—was easy to make.

    “One thing that was really clear from the conversations we were having was how frustrated our group members were with these idiots who weren’t getting vaccines. The ones who can, but choose not to,” Bleiman said. “If you think you know more than all the data and all the scientific experts, you’re narcissistic.”

    A recent uptick in COVID infections forced the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to change its mask guidelines, recommending people wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status. Santa Clara County is also recommending residents mask up when indoors.

    With positive infections rising across the state again, spurred by the highly-contagious Delta variant, California lawmakers and business owners are mulling the recommendation. Experts however say that “breakthrough” cases, or infections among vaccinated people, are rare and almost always accompanied by only mild symptoms.

    Though there isn’t a similar bar alliance in San Jose, owners are encouraging each other to put voluntary policies in place.

    7 Stars Bar & Grill, a “Star Wars”-themed pub on Bascom Avenue just outside the city’s upscale Santana Row neighborhood, opened its doors last week after cautiously releasing a YouTube video stating their intentions to require only proof of vaccination for entering.

    “I thought there would be more backlash. I was nervous,” said Marya Cunha, who owns 7 Stars with her husband, Paul. “The idea that if we were responsible for an outbreak that got people sick, that would’ve weighed really heavily on us.”

    The couple told San José Spotlight they haven’t had any problems with customers over the requirement. They’ve actually seen an uptick in customers who specifically go to the bar because of the requirement.

    Short of an actual government mandate from local officials, some bar owners say their hands are tied.

    Eric Nielsen, owner of SP2, a bar and restaurant in downtown San Jose’s San Pedro Square Market, says the burden of making sure his workers are safe is overwhelming. While he hasn’t implemented a policy requiring proof of vaccination to enter, he says he will if the case count continues to rise and that his priority is the safety of his workers and customers.

    Regardless if people want to get vaccinated or not, he says the local government needs to step up.

    “I really wish the county or the government would do their job and just say if you want to go eat indoors, you need proof of vaccination,” Nielsen said. “But now, they want all the onus on the business owner… If that’s what you think is best for the public good, why isn’t that the rule? It doesn’t make any sense why I’m the harbinger of good and bad news.”

    Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.

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