DENVER (CBS4) – Bar Max in Denver is now open after being closed for much of the pandemic. Patrons can enjoy a cocktail inside only if they provide proof of vaccination. Owner Marshall Smith reopened the bar last Friday once he was fully vaccinated.

(credit: CBS)

“We are not refusing service to anyone. We still have takeout options, we still have a patio, what we are saying is in order to sit down and enjoy a cocktail, we’re asking that you be vaccinated,” Smith said. “To be in a position where I don’t have to decide, ‘Am I risking someone getting sick and possibly dying in order to pay my bills?’ That’s a huge relief.”

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Smith bought the bar in September of 2019 shortly before the pandemic started. Due to COVID-19, he’s had an 80% drop in revenue, but has sustained the business through takeout options, to-go cocktails, and zoom cocktail classes.

“I have elderly parents who also have health concerns. I have a brother for whom I’m the caretaker for. I also have other underlying health conditions, so for me once I got to February, I was no longer willing to risk getting COVID because I made it that far,” Smith said. “Folks who have literally gone nowhere in the past year, folks who are immunocompromised, frontline workers in healthcare, educators who have been most exposed and impacted, they have come specifically and said to me, ‘This is the first time we have felt safe coming out in more than a year, and we appreciate you doing it.’ The folks who have had negative reactions haven’t been to the bar before, and it seems other bars might be a better option for them.”

Marshall Smith (credit: CBS)

Sara Grossman says the rule is not only a relief for customers, but employees as well. She handles marketing for Bar Max and has been dealing with some backlash.

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“We have received a lot of one star and negative reviews on both Google and Yelp over the last week and a half since we announced the official reopening and policy, and to that I say, there’s a lot more people who gave us a review than stopped in the bar, so I’m in the process of figuring out how to weed out those fake reviews,” Grossman said.

While the policy has been controversial, the owner says his intention is to keep the community safe.

“I’m not an essential service. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, don’t come,” Smith said.

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For now, Bar Max is only open Friday and Saturday nights. The bar is still following the city of Denver’s indoor dining guidelines, including masks indoors and social distancing.