Driving through Hagatna, Tamuning and Tumon at night during the beginning of the first lockdown in March 2020 was a surreal experience. The island's lively nightlife scene went dark. A form of prohibition happened that forced bars, taverns and nightclubs to close down.
A glimmer of hope happened when Covid-19 positive cases began showing a flatline. Tourism was about to reopen in July but then a massive outbreak followed, prompting Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero to order bars shut down on Aug. 7.
On Wednesday, Feb. 24, the lights will turn back on. Guam's nightlife reopens, albeit with a 50 percent capacity limit. Nightlife returning is a neon sign that things might be going back to normal in Guam.
Thomas Peinhopf, owner of Livehouse and Shady Lady bars in Tumon, has mixed emotions.
"I've been on a rollercoaster for 340 days. We respect the reopening and will follow the protocols of (Department of Public Health and Social Services); however, the damage to my small business has been done," he said.
Peinhopf led a failed class action lawsuit challenging the governor's order to shut down businesses as part of the public health protection measures. The federal court dismissed the lawsuit.
"We are happy that it's finally coming," said Jun Piolo, master bartender Jun Piolo at The Venue in Hagatna and Drop in Tumon. "We will continue to follow the guidelines so that we can remain open."
Guam has transitioned to Pandemic Condition of Readiness 3 this week, expanding economic activity as daily Covid-19 test results indicate that community transmission has slowed down.
As of this week, a total of 17,489 Guamanians have been fully vaccinated.
Although some restrictions have been eased, officials advised residents to continue practicing protective measures.
"We will follow the DPHSS guidelines and as employees will keep masks on. I feel like the people who choose to work daily in front of people should get vaccinated," Piolo said.
The pre-Covid revelry, however, is not to be expected at this time. "There will be no live music performers for now, and perhaps DJs on the weekend," Piolo said.
Without tourists, bars and taverns bank on local patrons.
Ray Rupley, owner of the Horse and Cow in Tamuning, is optimistic about the reopening.
Workers who have been displaced by the lockdown look forward to receiving their paychecks again.
"As a restaurant-bar owner, I've had my share of struggles just like everyone. Getting my employees back to work makes me happy. Being able to pay our bills will make us happy. Even at 50 percent, we will be able to make some money," Rupley said.
"Our tables are more than six feet apart and following the guidelines. Our customers are reminded by staff to mask-up when they leave their table. Trivia nights are on Fridays, and we're excited to have it going again."
In Tumon, Drop owners and staff have been deep cleaning the lounge in preparation for Wednesday's reopening. The island's place for perennial favorite drinks, fortunately, survived the extended closure. There are job openings posted on the lounge Facebook page for bartenders, barbacks, and a "greeter/vibe liaison."
"Drop closed in February 2020 and reopened in March to do renovations. It was open only for a few days until the first lockdown started. We're excited to show people the remodeling we did, and our drinks are still better than ever," said Alan Torrado, co-owner of Drop.
"The Blueberry Lychee Mojito is back, and it ain't going anywhere. We are working on ways to increase our capacity to meet the guidelines and maximize revenue," said Jon Hsieh, Drop co-owner.
The latest jobs opening up are welcome signs in the battle to rebuild the island's economy.
A healthy nightlife industry is essential to attract travelers to Guam once tourism opens up. Driving around the island at night this weekend will be lit. Just make sure to have a designated driver, and don't forget to bring your mask.