Two bars open in downtown Fort Smith amid pandemic challenges

FORT SMITH, Ark – Think you might need a drink, or more, in this pandemic and political environment? Good news. Downtown Fort Smith has two new bars to help residents socialize in this time of social distancing.

Tipsy’s Pub at 1000 Garrison Ave., and Prohibition Bar at 701 Rogers Ave., have opened in the past few weeks offering new places for people to meet for their favorite libation. Both bars are located within the new downtown entertainment district in Fort Smith.

Tipsy’s Pub, which opened Oct. 1, is the product of a partnership between Miguel Chavez and Hector Torres, both long-time employees of La Huerta in Fort Smith.

“We both had experience running and managing a Mexican restaurant. We know what people like in a bar. We knew what was needed to manage a bar and we wanted to try opening a bar,” Chavez said.

When the owners of R Landry’s New Orleans Café decided to return to their former location at 613 Garrison Ave., they let Chavez and Torres know and the duo jumped at the chance to rent the building. Unfortunately, about a week after they signed the lease, the COVID-19 pandemic caused the state to close restaurants and bars, Chavez said.

“It was both good and bad I guess. It gave us the opportunity to do much of the work ourselves,” he said of renovations needed to turn the space into the sports bar they envisioned.

Startup cost for the pub was minimal. Total startup cost, including permits, was close to $30,000, Torres said.

“We bought the paint. We did the work ourselves. We had to tear out (a wall) and do some renovations in the kitchen,” Chavez said.

The pub has a full bar with favorite beers on tap and liquors on the shelves. It also serves traditional bar food, some with a twist, including: Philly cheesesteak, the Tipsy Burger, a classic hamburger, chicken wings, mozzarella sticks, onion rings, chips and queso and French fries. The non-smoking establishment caters to sports fans with five 55-inch flat screen TVs tuned in to all the favorite basketball, football, baseball and soccer games, Chavez said. There is also a jukebox in the corner and live music for a few hours on some nights.

Chavez is working at the bar full-time, while Torres continues his position at La Huerta on Towson Avenue. They also have three part-time bartenders. Tipsy’s Pub is open 3 p.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday; 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday; 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday; and 11 a.m. to midnight Sunday.

“People are getting to know us and know we are non-smoking. We want to give the best service, and when you come back, we want you to see that service is consistent,” he said.

Prohibition Bar opened the first of September. Rep. Jay Richardson, D-Fort Smith, and owner, said they had minimal startup costs because the property, which was formerly Core Public House, was also a bar. Prohibition sells wine and beer only along with charcuterie boards, but should have a full liquor license by mid-November, Richardson said. At that time, the bar will unveil a new food menu and operate a full bar. The bar has five part-time employees.

Opening during a pandemic presented some challenges for each establishment. Tipsy has a full capacity of 99, so while bars in Arkansas are still under regulations to be open only at 60%, only 50 or so guests can visit a night, Chavez said. Guests also must wear a mask until they are served and while walking around the bar. Guests are asked to socially distance.

“For the most part, people are doing what they should. We work to make sure everyone is following all the rules, Chavez said.

Social distancing is a little easier at Prohibition because of the layout of the bar, Richardson said. The establishment also has an outdoor seating area. Prohibition bar is open 5-10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 5 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday; and 1-6 p.m. Sunday.

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