Restaurants and tavern owners hoping to cautiously venture back into presenting live performances will have to wait longer after updated guidance from the governor’s office made it clear this week that live performances in such venues will have to wait.

Gov. Jay Inslee issued the new guidelines Tuesday clarifying what is and isn’t allowed for restaurants and taverns under the Safe Start plan. The new guidelines say live performances at restaurants and bars aren’t allowed under Phases 2 and 3. (King and Snohomish counties are currently in Phase 2.)

That applies to performances both indoors and out, according to Mike Faulk, the governor’s press secretary. 

“That doesn’t mean it won’t return, but we need more time to assess the increase in the spread of COVID and adjust accordingly,” Faulk said in an email. “The current pause is for two weeks, which happens to be the incubation period for the virus. Unfortunately, for live entertainment, it’s hard to put a timeline on its return right now.”

Steps have been taken to eliminate large gatherings of fans from the equation across the entertainment spectrum, from Mariners games to your local concert venue. Restaurants and taverns, though, had hoped to begin returning to normal — as much as that’s possible with 25% to 50% occupancy and everyone wearing a mask.

Olympia comedian Gabriel Rutledge is scheduled to perform Saturday, at Laughs Comedy Club, which is licensed as a restaurant. As of Friday morning, the University District club’s website still advertised the show.


Rutledge has done a few sets since officials began to lift restrictions. He has found humor in a situation that is not very funny.

“I never really thought about it before, but all the things that made a comedy show good — like a packed room, low ceiling — all that stuff is not what you want right now,” Rutledge said Thursday night in a call between sets at a comedy club in Medford, Oregon. “In a weird way, being a comedian has always been a bad idea, so it feels oddly normal to me to keep doing it.”

Rutledge’s performance at Laughs is scheduled to be held in an outdoor courtyard that’s limited to 26 audience members, according to the club’s website. Its owners declined comment via email.

The comedian said he wears a mask while backstage but takes it off for his performances, which have been indoors. The places where he has performed have taken all the steps outlined by the government, he says, but adds that it still feels dangerous, something he’s never experienced as a comedian.

He’s been making ends meet by delivering groceries during the shutdown, so he doesn’t feel he can turn down any paying gig.

“I don’t feel I’m 100% confident I’m doing the right thing, but I think that’s the same as everyone in some aspect, you know what I mean?” Rutledge said. “Should I visit my parents or is it bad to visit my parents? Or, you know, are we allowed to hug again? All these sad questions? And that is definitely true with what I do. We’re all trying to make the best of it, but it’s been pretty devastating, not just to comedy, but to all live performance.”


Venues such as Seattle’s Jazz Alley, which is also licensed as a restaurant, had previously planned to hold live shows but canceled after learning such performances were not yet allowed. On its website, the club lists several upcoming shows starting July 30. Other venues, such as Tony V’s Garage Saloon & Eatery in Everett and Rustic Cork Wine Bar in Lake Stevens have — according to each venue’s Facebook page — held performances recently, but it’s unclear what they’ll do in light of the new guidelines. The owners could not immediately be reached for comment. 

Confusion about the guidelines is understandable, Faulk said, given the quick changes during the pandemic.

If a member of the public reports a violation, an enforcement process begins. Faulk said it’s tailored to work with the business initially, beginning with a phone call “to educate them on the reasons for these policies and to solicit voluntary compliance. Penalties would come later in the enforcement process after receiving and investigating additional complaints.”