MISSOULA — It was a decision lobbied for months by Missoula's bars and restaurants -- to have longer operating hours.
That's what the Missoula City-County Board of Health voted for on Thursday as they made adjustments to existing COVID-19 guidelines. Those changes now allow restaurants, bars, breweries, distilleries, and casinos to stay open past 10 p.m.
Think back to last March -- now, try to imagine opening two new bars. Kyle Riggs and the Pangea Restaurant group did just that. "I always jokingly say it wasn't hard enough to open one, so we did two," Kyle Riggs said.
Pangea, and cocktail bar Stave and Hoops were set open on March 16, 2020 -- the same day that Missoula County announced bars and restaurants would have to close. "It's been a little hard to get ourselves out there,” Riggs said.
Fast forward almost a year later, they're now finally able to stay open until the time allowed on their liquor license after the Missoula County Board of Health rescinded some of its earlier COVID-19 restrictions.
That decision came Thursday, after hearing testimony from about 70 businesses hoping to expand their hours.
"This is a really unique thing where you've got a bunch of bar and restaurant owners that work directly with the health department. That's something that just never happens,” Riggs told MTN News.
He says they'll ease into the changes and start staying open until about midnight.
"People still have to feel safe and feel comfortable, it just takes all that pressure off,” Helan said. “You're not having to go up to people at 9:30 and go 'you gotta go, you gotta get out of here right now’."
Riggs isn't the only one who's excited. Other bar owners told MTN News that their employees will be thankful to work more hours. Red’s Bar owner Mike Helan says that between 10 p.m. Until 2 a.m. are his busiest times. The bartenders have missed those shifts for months.
"My employees, when they're dealing with the younger crowd, they don't really come out until 9:30 or 10 o'clock at night. So, they're having to kick people out before they really get going,” Helan said.
He added that his customers weren't too happy either,” they're a little frustrated with it."
But now that they can go back to normal operating hours, "I think overall it's going to be a great thing for everybody.”
The changes go into effect on Friday.
Some of the other revisions include increasing the current capacity limits and allowing eight people to be seated at a table.
However, officials are reminding the public that the indoor mask mandate is still in effect.