CINCINNATI — Although Reds Opening Day 2021 won't be a city-wide party, many bar and restaurant owners hope Thursday will be a sign that life is slowly returning back to normal.
"Obviously, the Reds had an Opening Day without fans last year, and it was three months after the regular start of the season," said Billy Watson, owner of Kitty's Sports Grille.
Last spring was rough for the service industry everywhere, but especially so for owners like Watson, whose sports bar is located near Paul Brown Stadium and Great American Ball Park on Third Street. The three-month Opening Day delay and government orders nixing sit-down service combined to deal a big financial hit to Kitty's.
"The year before, we did more revenue on Reds Opening Day than we did the whole month of April last year, and we were literally open every day for the month of April," he said. "Opening Day is usually our best day of the year."
With baseball season opening on time this year and COVID-19 restrictions easing, Watson said he hopes to do better financially.
But neither he nor Danny Scott, who operates Fishbowl at the Banks, expects a return to the Opening Day crowds of previous years.
"It's baby steps," Scott said. "Last year was very limited. This year is still going to be limited, but we've taken steps in the right direction, I think."
The Reds are allowing a smaller number of fans inside Great American Ball Park for their season opener against the St. Louis Cardinals, and the city of Cincinnati opened its DORA, a "designated outdoor refreshment area" in which customers can drink alcohol outside, at the Banks last week.
"With DORA we're going to be able to fit some extra people down here," Scott said. "We're going to be able to spread out and be safe."
Although Kitty's operates outside of the Banks' open container district, Watson said he hopes the smell of Kitty's chicken wings lures people over to his bar.
"It's like a Cincinnati holiday," he said. "So, hopefully, people will be excited about the start of the season and we'll have people here to watch the game. We've got 12 TVs."
Scott said he wants people to remain aware of safety protocols in order to end the pandemic soon.
"We still need to keep that in mind," he said. "I don't want to discourage people from coming down . . . but I don't want to say, 'Hey, let's pack it in.'"