Last call came early for Pennsylvanians looking to quench their thirst on the day before a holiday that is traditionally a time for families to get together.

Bars and restaurants stopped serving alcohol at 5 p.m. Tuesday due to updated COVID-19 mitigation orders from Gov. Tom Wolf.

"It turns out that the biggest day for drinking is the Wednesday before Thanksgiving," Wolf said in announcing the order Monday. "When people get together in that situation, it leads to an increase in the exchange of fluids, that leads to an increase in infection."

As the clock ticked ever closer to the figurative — but far from literal — midnight, Ashley Merritt of Meadville stood behind the bar at the Deer Head Inn on North Street in Meadville. Merritt said that in her three years as a bartender at the tavern she hadn’t noticed Thanksgiving Eve being a particularly big night for the bar, but that she had heard other establishments enjoy brisk business from friends gathering upon returning home.

Merritt said she could understand both Wolf’s desire to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus and resistance to the notion of closing down bars.

“I think it’s understandable to be scared because this is the busiest day for bars,” she said regarding the potential impact, “but it does hurt the business because normally we would be making a lot of money on this night.”

On the other side of the bar, reactions were mixed.

“I think it sucks,” said Laverne Dean, one of four patrons inside the smoke-filled bar an hour before sales would be cut off. “Wolf needs to take a chill pill.”

But seated next to Dean, Marty Alexander said he wasn’t bothered by the early closure. When 5 p.m. comes, he said, “I’ll just go home.”

“That’s all we can do,” Dean responded with a derisive chuckle. “We might hit the liquor store before then.”

Sales of alcohol for off-site consumption were not affected by Wolf’s orders. In addition, Dean pointed out, bars were permitted to reopen at 8 a.m. today, “which makes no sense.”

A few blocks away at The Pit Stop, about 10 people were spread among tables in front of a U-shaped bar with Plexiglas dividers hanging from the ceiling all the way around.

Standing beside one of the small circular tables, Meadville resident Kim Vogel said she wasn’t worried about the coronavirus and that she didn’t think highly of the governor’s decision to shut bars down early.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” she said. “It’s another form of control in my opinion.”

Because of the early closure on a night people have traditionally used to gird themselves before potentially explosive family dinners, Vogel said she would probably head home, start cooking for Thanksgiving and perhaps have a glass of wine. Not a bad evening perhaps, but Vogel understood the desire to go out on Thanksgiving Eve.

“It’s always been a big night because families are gathering,” she joked, “and people want to get away from the families.”

Mike Crowley can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at mcrowley@meadvilletribune.com.

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