Little Rock Bar's Quinn Fallon would be OK with another shutdown

Joel Oliphint
Little Rock Bar owner Quinn Fallon chats with patrons on the Italian Village bar's rooftop patio in 2018.

At this point in the pandemic, Quinn Fallon, owner of Little Rock Bar in Italian Village, would be relieved if the state shut things down again. In fact, he might not wait around for the possibility of another shutdown. Fallon’s tentative plan is to make it through the end of the year, then close the doors in January and February and hope for the best in the spring.

“I wouldn't come here. I'm not asking anybody to come out,” Fallon said this week by phone. “It is not a priority to get drunk with your buddy. It's just not. You get the whole rest of your life to do that.”

Like so many other businesses, Little Rock shut down in March when statewide stay-at-home orders went out, and even after the state permitted reopening with certain restrictions, Fallon still waited another few weeks. Initially, Little Rock reopened with indoor seating available, but in July Fallon switched to outdoor seating only and hasn’t looked back.

Little Rock has a rooftop bar with a fire pit, a side patio with four tables and some recently purchased natural gas heaters, but running the bar without indoor seating has had a severe financial impact.

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“I ran the numbers on what our sales were this year versus last year, and when I saw it, I almost started laughing out loud because I couldn't believe what the number was. It was so absurd I couldn't wrap my head around it,” said Fallon, who lately has been letting the weather forecast determine whether or not to open each day. “Days under 40 degrees, there’s absolutely no point in opening up. … Upstairs, if you're not standing around that fire pit, it's not going to do any good. So when it's cold out, you can only put about 10 people up there.”

In regards to the recent statewide 10 p.m. curfew, combined with Franklin County’s 28-day stay-at-home advisory, Fallon isn’t convinced the measures will help or hurt business. Since advisories aren't the same as orders, the water gets murky pretty quickly.

“I was happy they asked people to stay at home. I don't think anybody should be going out. That's fine. I don't take that stuff personally. [But] the whole message is very confusing. They tell people, “Don't go to bars... but also you can.’ And then, 'Be home by 10... unless you're not,’” he said. “As far as the curfew goes, I don't think it's really affected much, because I don't think a lot of people are taking it very seriously. They didn't move our last call up to 9 p.m.; we still have to stop serving by 10, which is when you're supposed to be home already. It's very confusing, and I think if people don't really understand it, they’re just going to ignore it.”

But Fallon isn’t angry about the various steps to stem the spread of the virus. “I appreciate the precarious position that Gov. DeWine is in, because if he does nothing, a bunch of people are gonna be really happy about it and a bunch of people are gonna be pissed. And if he takes any measures at all, people are gonna be pissed he took those measures,” Fallon said. “There is absolutely no win to be found for him.”

What frustrates Fallon more are the local bars and restaurants that aren’t doing their best to slow the spread of COVID. He pointed to neighboring Italian Village bars that have gone to great lengths to stay safe — St. James Tavern remains closed, while Seventh Son invested in socially distant outdoor seating. Meanwhile, on jogs through the Short North, Fallon said he sees crowded bars and unmasked patrons bellied up to the bar, conversing with bartenders. “It's putting us all in danger, because these people that are drinking in your bar with no restrictions are going to come to our bars the next night,” he said.

Compared to a lot of bars and restaurants, Fallon is in a fortunate position — he owns the Little Rock building, so he’s not beholden to a landlord for rent. But his heart breaks for the establishments that are trying to keep patrons and staff safe while also staying financially solvent. “It’s this crazy game. There’s a bargaining, where you’re saying, ‘Do I want to be safe, or do I want to make money?’ And then the bartenders have to ask themselves the same thing: ‘What’s scarier, getting COVID or getting evicted?’” Fallon said.

Still, Fallon sees light at the end of the tunnel. He’s not freaking out. Yet. Little Rock can survive by hunkering down until March, Fallon said, and maybe he’ll also be able to open for a few freakishly warm January and February days. Regardless, he’s grateful for Little Rock’s tight-knit community. “Half the regulars here have my phone number,” he said. “I've worked so many places in my life, and there's never been such a blurring of patrons who are friends, who then become family, and then you throw staff in there... It's just this crazy island of misfit toys.”