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Houston Restaurants and Bars Are Closing Temporarily Due to Concerns Over the COVID-19 Omicron Variant

Other restaurants are canceling events, reinstating masking rules, and taking other measures to mitigate spread

The inside of a softly-lit dining room where people are moving about a bar.
One Fifth and other Underbelly Hospitality restaurants have closed temporarily due to surging COVID-19 cases.
Julie Soefer

A number of Houston bars and restaurants have opted to close temporarily this week due to concerns over the new COVID-19 variant, omicron, which has begun to rapidly spread throughout Houston and the rest of the United States.

Omicron was first detected in Houston on December 6, in a Harris County woman who was fully vaccinated. Since then, Houston Methodist Hospital has reported that the variant is responsible for about 82 percent of new cases in Houston.

Of particular concern is that omicron appears to be much more contagious than previous coronavirus variants, even amongst the fully vaccinated, and is arriving at a time when many people will be gathering with family and friends for the holidays. Experts have warned that a new outbreak could overwhelm already stretched medical systems, whose employees have been dealing with limited resources and increased infections for going on two years.

In some cases, establishments in Houston have closed due to confirmed exposure to COVID-19 among employees. In other cases, they’ve chosen to close “out of an abundance of caution”, and so that employees can have time off to get booster shots or get preemptively tested.

On Friday, Washington Avenue gay bar Pearl posted to Instagram that some employees had tested positive for COVID-19. The bar stated that it would be closing for a week to give the staff “adequate time to test/quarantine before Christmas weekend.” The bar, one of the few remaining lesbian bars in the United States, has a loyal following of regulars, and after commenters asked how they could support staff while the bar was closed, Pearl shared donation info for several of the employees so customers could leave “Christmas tips.”

The decision to close isn’t always easy. For intimate Montrose restaurant Nobie’s, which made a last-minute decision to close on Sunday, December 19, it meant canceling coveted reservations for the remainder of the week. Nobie was originally slated to be closed in observance of the Christmas holiday, with plans to reopen Tuesday, December, 28. That closure will now mean ten full days without business.

Underbelly Hospitality, which owns half a dozen restaurants in Houston including One-Fifth, Hay Merchant, and Georgia James, opted to close all of its restaurants December 19 through Tuesday, December 21, even though one of those spots, UB Preserv, is closing for good on December 23. Other closures, as reported by the Houston Chronicle, include Dandelion Cafe, Tiny Champions, and Squable.

On Saturday, Midtown bar Double Trouble also opted to close for a few days, to allow members of the staff to get tested. The bar, which was closed for nearly 15 months during the first wave of the pandemic, has been operating with limited staff and an abbreviated schedule since May 2021. They anticipate reopening on Wednesday, December 22. Downtown charity bar Angel Share also opted to close over the weekend.

For other restaurants, caution over the new variant led to the cancellation of events. Lucille’s Chef and owner Chris Williams opted to cancel the restaurant’s holiday party — and also a preview for hotly-anticipated new restaurant Late August — on Sunday. “This wasn’t the decision we wanted to make, but with the current surge in COVID-19 cases, we’ll be canceling tomorrow’s Holiday Party,” he wrote on Instagram.

At least one other restaurant has opted to get more strict about covid mitigation measures in lieu of closing. West University taqueria El Topo posted over the weekend that it was reinstating its masking policy. “Masks will be required while moving about the restaurant and remain optional on our patio. We cherish our Topo gang and regulars, and want us all to be able to safely share Christmas with our families this week.”

Houston is not the only city to see temporary closures as the omicron variant has spread. At least a dozen restaurants in New York City closed last week, as well as establishments in Chicago and Austin. In Houston, it’s not yet clear how many of these closures will be extended, or if more are to come as cases continue to rise.