‘It’s best to play everything safe’: Auntie Mae’s errs on the side of caution in pandemic response

Auntie Mae's Parlor celebrated 45 years of being reopened. The parlor was first opened from 1930-1934 and was reopened in 1974. Auntie Mae's is located in Aggieville at 616 N. 12th Street. (File Photo by Brooke Barrett | Collegian Media Group)

Editor’s note: The original headline on this story incorrectly used “airs” instead of “errs.” That mistake has been corrected. The Collegian regrets this error.

While other businesses have opened, closed and reopened in the wake of the pandemic, this bar has been quietly waiting it out.

“It’s not easy, we’re going day by day, reevaluating things every single day, and trying to do what we think is best, not only for us, but for the community,” Jeff Denney, owner of Auntie Mae’s Parlour, said.

As some businesses have pushed for restrictions to be lifted, Auntie Mae’s has spoken out against some being lifted. When the most recent local health order changed screening of employees symptoms and temperatures from being required to being “strongly recommended,” Auntie Mae’s tweeted its dissent.

“We’re looking at trying to slowly reopen, but we’re a little worried with school starting, and a lot of people coming back into town,” Denney said. “We didn’t want to get opened up and then have the numbers shoot up, and then the health department says we have to close down again.”

In addition to the current caseload, Denney said concerns about the long term health consequences of the pandemic have also informed the decision to hold off on reopening.

“I’m no medical expert, but there’s the obvious impact on people’s health. They still don’t know even if you have this virus and get over it, there could be effects that hit you years later … so I just figured it’s best to play everything safe,” Denney said.

In June, Auntie Mae’s did have plans for a tentative reopening, but it was cut short due to the spike of cases in Riley County.

“It put a little fear into us, and the last thing I want to do is have one of my employees infected, spread it to others and spread it to their families,” Denney said. “I don’t want to be responsible for that.”

In the meantime, Auntie Mae’s has been offering mixed drinks to go. Since May, the bar has promoted an ever-changing assortment of cocktails two days a week, mixing drinks such as their strawberry balsamic margarita to cucumber honey gin fizz. More recently, the bar has tried a different approach by offering private tastings with a limited number of people and social distancing precautions.

However, curbside drinks and private tastings have not been nearly enough to curb the economic effects, Denny said.

“We’ve applied for emergency loans through the small business association, we are living off those funds and our savings,” he said. “Selling a few cocktails out the window twice a week and having a tasting, it’s nowhere near the amount of income we need to stay afloat.”

While much of the feedback via social media has been supportive, Denney said that one unexpected side effect of the pandemic was the loss of some close friends.

“I’ve had some conversations, mostly through social media, but yeah I’ve lost many close friends,” Denney said. “People who think this whole thing is a hoax, a lot of people are saying that once the election happens and Trump is out of office then this thing will just miraculously disappear.”

Denney voiced support for mask-wearing as a means of containing the spread of the virus and reopening safely.

“If everybody could just wear their masks and get over this thing, we could go back to business,” he said.

My name is Rebecca Vrbas. I’m the culture editor at the Collegian and a junior in journalism and mass communications. My hobbies include obsessing over an ever-expanding pool of musicals and cats (not the musical). I love writing because of the infinite intricacy of language, as well as its power to cultivate a sense of community through sharing experiences.