MILWAUKEE - Baseball fans from all parts of the city headed to bars and restaurants to cheer on the Brew Crew on opening day, providing a needed boost in business for establishments that have taken a hit during the coronavirus pandemic.
Opening day meant the return of shuttles and a surge of customers looking for a place to watch the game. Fans said despite health guidelines, the return of Brewers baseball brought back a much-needed sense of normalcy.
The capacity limit at American Family Field and the decision to suspend tailgating had Brewers fans heading to their favorite spots for a bite to eat or to watch the game.
"It’s a really nice boost to our morale and to our sales," said Jason Kerstein with Story Hill BKC/Black Shoe Hospitality. Black Shoe Hospitality owns Story Hill BKC, Blue’s Egg and Maxie's.
"We’ve got a full restaurant reserved for lunch, and I’m guessing 60 to 70% are in Brewer gear," said Kerstein.
Kerstein anticipated an additional boost in sales with cocktails-to-go.
"We expect it to really help us," said Kerstein. "It just started on Sunday."
At other establishments, opening day for the Brewers meant the return of shuttles to-and-from the game for fans.
"We opened up an hour earlier than normal," said Ryan Steny with Steny's. "There were people out in the parking lot at like, 9:30 a.m.
"It's not the same as normal years, but we will take it because it’s a sense of normalcy. That’s a huge part of my business, so losing that and losing sports has been really tough."
While opening day 2021 may not have looked the same, for many, the return of America's favorite pastime brought a much-needed sigh of relief.
"I can’t wait to hear the first crack of the bat or that first home run and people cheering," said Steny.
"Seeing the excitement of people in Brewer gear, knowing there’s some hope out there," said Kerstein.
Business, COVID-19 safety go hand in hand
Whether inside at the bar or outside on the patio, Brewers fan Paul Corey said, without tickets to the game, there's no better place to watch his team on opening day than at Brewski's Sports Pub.
"It's the biggest party of the year until we make the playoffs," Corey said.
Prior to the big game, the Milwaukee Health Department voiced concerns about crowds gathering to watch.
"The size of the gathering does give me pause, but I'm confident with the Brewers safety plan in place," said Milwaukee Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson. "They've done an exceptional job at assuring that groups will be physically distanced, there will not be interaction between groups."
Brewski's General Manager Tim Beuth said the restaurant has put in the effort to abide by their safety plan while welcoming a solid crowd for opening day.
"To not have anything going on for this last year, you know, we're just so grateful to have it back," said Beuth.
Brewski's and other area bars know they're being watched, just like the Brewers are, as health officials look to contain the coronavirus pandemic. At Steny's, that meant health guidelines put in place to handle crowds.
"Normal busy is like, shoulder-to-shoulder, three deep at the bar," said Steny. "Right now every table is six feet apart."
There was also social distancing on board the Steny's shuttles with masks required.
Beuth said Brewski's welcomes the business but understands what must be done from a safety standpoint to stay open.
"People are just understanding that that's just what we have to do as a business. It's either do what you have to do for us to stay open, or don't do it and we end up closing. There's not much of a choice," Beuth said.
Fans told FOX6 they'd love to be back in the parking lots tailgating, but the Brewers and the health department have made it clear: That's just not a possibility yet, as they hope for decreasing cases and increasing vaccinations.