Customers wait while bartenders prepare drinks at the Viking Room’s newly reopened bar. Photo by Pei Robins.
Shuttered since the end of Winter Term 2020, the doors to the Viking Room — Lawrence’s bar and social meeting place — were thrown open to student patronage on May 12. Fourteen months have passed since the last droughts were poured in that space.
While the Viking Room has been the home to pints and conversations on-campus many a night since 1969, the world has changed in the past year, and so the Viking Room has changed with it. According to the VR’s staff supervisor Greg Griffin, social distancing, masking indoors, limited capacity and outdoor-only seating are the rules for the Spring Term 2021 in order to keep the doors open and students healthy.
When VR leadership was looking for the optimal time to reopen, Griffin said, campus safety was a key consideration. The conclusion they came to was to wait until Wisconsin’s weather would allow for patron comfort outdoors, where the possibilities of transmission are most reduced, according to Griffin.
Per Griffin, those returning to the VR after its hiatus will find the patio furnished with added seating and tents to offer some protection from inclement weather, particularly spring rains.
Veteran bartender, senior Zoe Adler was likewise optimistic about the reopening.
“It has gone very well,” Adler said. “[The staff] have all done an excellent job adjusting to current circumstances. Rules have been implemented for everyone’s safety such as moving to entirely outdoor seating with a maximum capacity of 48, limits to how many people can sit at a table – four if vaccinated and two if not – and keeping a cap on the number of people in the bar.”
Adler added that while some students have resisted following the rules, these individuals were asked to leave. She explained that violators receive verbal warnings and will ultimately be ousted if they do not heed the staff.
It’s rule violations such as these that have some worried about the danger of COVID-19 spread at the VR. In a poll of 129 students posted in the Lawrence Shoutbox Facebook group, the most frequently raised concern was that of masklessness combined with proximity among the attendees. There was worry that the VR’s opening was premature and should be pushed to next school year.
However, for many other Lawrentians, the VR’s opening appears to be a welcome move that allows them to socialize and enjoy the warming of Wisconsin. 88 percent of those polled favored the opening.
“I think it’s great that [the VR] reopened,” senior Hannah Rauch said. “I know that many seniors have been desperate to reconnect before we graduate and this gives us a safe place to socialize…[this could] be used as an incentive to get vaccinated, especially if they open up the inside for fully vaccinated students.”
To the possibility of indoor seating opportunities, Griffin thought September was feasible but dependent on the status of COVID-19 cases.
For those on the fence about visiting the VR, Adler considers it the safest option for those looking to go to a bar.
“[People] should do whatever they feel most comfortable with,” Adler said. “However, if you walk along College Avenue, it’s obvious that there are no bars safer than the VR in operation right now. I think if you are itching to get out with your friends, your best bet would be the VR, which has been set up to make social distancing possible.”