‘Do you have a reser-vaccination?’

Boulder restaurants moving toward COVID vaccine proof for indoor dining this fall and winter


Here’s the thing: 

If you want to dine inside most Boulder restaurants this fall and winter, you should get the COVID vaccine ASAP. 

While the State, City or County is unlikely to issue a vaccine mandate for eateries, bars and music venues, by Oct. 1 — if not earlier — many of Boulder’s restaurants and bars will impose the vax requirement on indoor diners. After barely surviving the winter of 2020, you can’t blame owners for trying to keep staff and customers safe and their businesses viable as the delta variant invades. 

Read my June 24 column (see Nibbles, “Back around the table”) to be reminded about the all-star roster of Boulder eateries, from The Med to Zolo Grill, that have died during this ongoing pandemic. Many current eateries will not survive another shutdown or cutting capacity to 25%. 

I’m fully vaccinated and still generally wary of dining indoors in the summer. This winter I will only “swap air” — as the epidemiologists put it — indoors at local restaurants which require other diners to be vaccinated. I am not alone in that safer dining intention. 

Many businesses, restaurants, venues and institutions are now wisely advancing a vax requirement

It was the University of Colorado’s (CU) decision to mandate vaccinations that prompted a change by chef Dakota Soifer, owner of Café Aion on the Hill. 

“We now ask diners eating indoors to show that they are vaccinated. This doesn’t affect patrons dining on the patio, getting takeout or delivery,” Soifer says.

“We learned a few things during the pandemic and one of them is that dining indoors is a high-risk activity. Dining outdoors is a whole lot safer. This decision makes sense to me to keep my staff and patrons safe,” he says.

Soifer points out that restaurants are different from other retail environments. Café Aion’s dining areas are snug spaces inside an old building. “Even with a mask mandate, most patrons have their masks off for most of their meal,” he says. Many of the restaurant’s diners are over 40, are associated with CU and are likely vaccinated anyway, he adds. Parents with children too young to be vaccinated will be impacted until pediatric vaccines are approved. 

Soifer also wants to show “solidarity” with CU and the Boulder Theater and Fox Theatre, which now require all concert attendees to show proof of vaccination or a negative test result within 72 hours. 

After a rough 18 months, Soifer and other frustrated Boulder restaurateurs express the hope that governments offer some recommendations to take the heat off of them.   

Soifer doesn’t expect many problems. “My paella is good but not good enough for someone to forge proof to eat it,” he says. 

However, the “No shirt, no shoes, no vax, no service” approach can be fraught with peril. Given the mask backlash last year, restaurant and bar owners are justifiably wary about anything causing confrontations between patrons and employees. 

MIT Technology Review reported recently that restaurants limiting indoor dining service to vaccinated customers have been attacked online by trolls leaving negative reviews on Yelp and other platforms.

“Aion is a small restaurant and it isn’t going to move the needle by itself but maybe we’ll encourage others and learn a little from the experience this year,” Soifer says. 

Denver’s Bonanno Concepts this week announced that it will require both employees and dining guests at its restaurants to be vaccinated against coronavirus starting Sept. 30.

Former Boulder Restaurant Week owner Kate Lacroix has been lobbying eateries to adopt the vaccination-proof mandate. 

“We are in a toxic relationship with the willingly unvaccinated. It’s time to move away from begging, pleading and bribing people to get the vaccine. We should not have our ability to move safely around society impeded. We shouldn’t have to face being bullied by the willingly unvaccinated,” Lacroix says. She notes that there will be plenty of places where the unvaccinated can dine with each other, including outside in yurts and tents. 

By the way, save those masks. We will likely be back to mask-wearing again soon in restaurants and indoor spaces. Mask-wearing is now being strongly encouraged for everyone, including the vaccinated, at local supermarkets. 

Comments to: Nibbles@boulderweekly.com 

A Toast to Jim Smailer

Chef Jim Smailer surely holds the longevity record for anyone in Boulder restaurant history as he has been cooking at the Boulder Cork for 40 years. That run will end Sept. 9 when Smailer exits the kitchen shortly before his 65th birthday. Smailer is revered in the local culinary community. Long before “farm-to-table” had a name, he was an advocate for local food. A well-known forager, he always maintained a great garden at the Cork. Besides being a steak lovers’ haven, the eatery is equally well known as a fresh-fish destination because of Smailer.

Local Food News 

Chef Tsehay Hailu’s classic Ras Kassa’s Ethiopian Restaurant in Lafayette has reopened, serving Tuesday through Sundays. … South Street Market has opened at 824 South St. in Louisville offering ready-to-eat meals, rotisserie chickens, sandwiches, coffee, baked goods and grocery items. … Laguna Mexican Restaurant is dishing Tex-Mex fare in the former Two Dog Diner space in Longmont at 645 Tenacity Drive. 

Words to Chew On

“As I go along, I add … tomatoes, brown sugar, vinegar — I balance sweetness with acid. Major with minor. I imagine I’m creating a concerto, with a main voice speaking, backed up by the other instruments, carefully balanced. They all have to make sense together to make that dish sing.” —Chef Susan Feniger  

John Lehndorff is the Boulder Weekly’s food editor and the former dining critic of the Rocky Mountain News

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