SANTA MONICA, Calif. – By most measures of what keeps a pub afloat, the coronavirus pandemic should already have Ye Olde King's Head on its last kegs.
The British restaurant and bar in seaside Southern California has been battered the past nine months. It was in the process of adapting to new restrictions that took effect Friday that would further crimp its recovery even as the prospect of a stay-home order loomed that could cripple the business.
“It's not worth thinking about,” said operations manager Lisa Powers, who has guided the 46-year-old institution through an ever-changing set of public health orders. “Nobody's going to survive without help from the federal government if there's another lockdown.”
The surge of cases in Los Angeles County is exploding at a rate even local public health officials didn't seem to contemplate Tuesday, when they gave businesses three days to adopt new restrictions that force restaurants to halve the outdoor capacity many established to stay afloat because indoor service was banned. Restaurants and nonessential retail must close at 10 p.m.
On Wednesday, LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said that by early December the county of 10 million people could reach a daily average of 4,000 cases that would require restaurants to only offer takeout meals. She said she didn't think that outcome was inevitable.
The next day, as daily cases topped 5,000, county health officer Dr. Muntu Davis said by Sunday the county could surpass a daily average of 4,500 cases that would trigger a shutdown.
The latest surge comes as public health officials across the U.S. raise the alarm about out-of-control transmission of the virus, strengthen restrictions and urge people against holding large Thanksgiving gatherings.
Gov. Gavin Newsom placed most California businesses under the most severe restrictions Monday and on Thursday added a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew for residents that takes effect today.
Restrictions went further in Los Angeles County, which accounts for a quarter of the state's 40 million residents but has about a third of the coronavirus cases and close to 40% of the deaths.
Ye Olde King's Head, a fixture near the beach in Santa Monica, weathered a lengthy shutdown in the spring, a destructive ransacking during police protests in May and public health orders that have required constant adaptation.
“It's like every week there's a different rule to follow,” Powers said. “We're trying to keep up, but things happen so fast.”
The California Restaurant Association has said thousands of restaurants have closed statewide and it fears more than a third of restaurants open in March before the first shutdown order will eventually go out of business.
The King's Head had to offer its traditional British fare for takeout. Its adjoining gift “shoppe” offering imported tea, biscuits, Marmite spread and British newspapers has reopened.
When only outdoor dining was allowed, the King's Head was fortunate to be a business that already had patio seating, allowing it to begin serving pints with pub grub along with formal afternoon tea on fine china and white linen.
For the largely British ex-pat community, as well as loyal locals and tourists from all over, the reopening was welcome.
“It's as close to being back home as you can get,” said Philip Mathur, who has been frequenting the pub since he moved to LA from a small town outside Glasgow more than 20 years ago. “It brings a bit of sanity into another otherwise strange world we're living in right now.”