On a normal Super Bowl Sunday, the Madd Hatter sports bar in Hoboken is packed.
The Washington Street bar, whose website advertises “40+ big screen TVs” and “projection TVs surrounding our enormous island bar,” normally hosts about 350 people for the big game.
“I mean, we’re slammed,” said Abe Ruales, Madd Hatter’s general manager.
This year, things are different. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the bar’s staff is trying to “figure out rules and layouts and feets and distances and a whole bunch of different factors,” Ruales said. “We want to be strict (with) guidelines.”
But on Wednesday, Gov. Phil Murphy rolled back some of the COVID-19 restrictions on eating and drinking, giving businesses hope that this year’s Super Bowl — a massive income generator for bars and restaurants — might look a little bit more normal.
Murphy revoked a 10 p.m. curfew on New Jersey bars and restaurants, and will permit them to increase indoor capacity from 25% to 35%.
“I feel confident in signing this order because of the recent trends in our hospitals and our rate of transmission,” Murphy said at a COVID-19 press briefing Wednesday. “We believe that we can make this expansion without leading to undue further stress on our health care system.”
The indoor capacity increase also applies to entertainment and recreation businesses, including casinos and gyms, and all personal care businesses, such as barbershops and salons, Murphy said. All may now operate at 35% capacity.
The new rules go into effect Friday at 6 a.m.
“To happen now, it’s actually great,” Ruales said. “It makes us feel a little better about the future.”
Bar seating will remain prohibited. Murphy said counties and municipalities can still enact their own curfew after 8 p.m. if they so choose.
“This approach gives local officials the ability to respond to unique situations where they are noticing non-compliance,” Murphy said.
But Wednesday afternoon, the mayors of Jersey City and Hoboken — both of whom have instituted prior curfews during the pandemic — announced that that they would allow bars and restaurants to open during normal business hours.
“Based on guidance provided by Governor Murphy and the State of New Jersey, we have made the joint decision to allow bars and restaurants to operate during normal, regular business hours without a local curfew,” Mayors Steve Fulop and Ravi Bhalla said in a statement. “This time around, we believe that a coordinated regional approach is the best way to implement safety measures, when necessary.”
COVID-19 restrictions have cut into some bar owners’ most profitable nights of the year, including Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. At Madd Hatter, Ruales said sales have fallen 70% since a year ago.
But Wednesday’s news has provided a slight boost. After Murphy’s announcement, Ruales was scrambling to adjust employees’ schedules — “from the kitchen down to bussers, barbacks, bartenders, servers, security, DJs, entertainment” — to cover the extra customers.
“It’s actually my day off,” Ruales added.
NJ Advance Media staff writers Jeremy Schneider and Matt Arco contributed to this report.