It’s a tale of two New Year’s: one party canceled, another in full swing.
The First Night Annual New Year’s Eve party was in full swing in Bushnell Park Friday with extra precautions. Just across the street, it was quiet at a local restaurant, forced to cancel their sold-out New Year’s Eve party due to COVID-19.
Bushnell Park was bustling, with two fireworks shows, ice skating and vendors.
“It’s our Dick Clark style ode to a Hartford New Year,” Taneisha Duggan, First Night Hartford creative producer, said.
Live bands performed at venues across downtown, and on the first outdoor stage in the event’s history.
“Music, dance, theatre, in the best, most ventilated place one can be!” Duggan said.
First Night Hartford’s New Year’s Eve party is a 33-year tradition that even COVID-19 hasn’t stopped.
“Last year we did 100 percent broadcast situation.” Duggan said. “We're continuing with the live broadcast. So if you wanted to stay home, if you said, ‘You know what, I just want to hunker in at my house, but I want to experience the fireworks and I want to experience these performances,’ you can get them through our Facebook and our YouTube pages.”
However, COVID-19 on the scene means precautions. Masks are mandatory, even outdoors.
“We have taken our cues from some of the larger fireworks events happening around the world and of course in Time Square,” Duggan said.
Vaccinations are strongly encouraged. Indoor venues are operating at limited capacity and may require proof of vaccination.
“I think we're all beginning to reckon with the fact that COVID will be with us for a long time,” Duggan said. “We want to be hopeful about how we move forward. We want to be safe. We want to take the lowest risk we can, but we want to remain hopeful.”
Yet just across the street at Black-Eyed Sally’s, customers eager for some southern comfort food instead found closed doors.
“We’re a little bit upset to see that it was closed, but we understand. It’s tough to operate an institute, restaurant here without the staff,” Justin Rawson, who is visiting the area from New York, said. “It’s kind of the times we live in now, so we have to roll with the punches. It’s unfortunate for them as a business owner, it’s probably one of their biggest nights of the year.”
With a heavy heart, owner James Varano announced on social media Thursday night that the sold-out New Year’s Eve party is canceled.
“Well I’ll tell you, it’s not a very happy new year for us here,” Varano said.
Varano explains that several staff members are quarantining after exposure to the virus.
“It killed me, God knows we tried to do everything, hire temporary staff and old employees, but there was just no way we could make it work,” he said. “It’s not always about the money, right, I had to do the right thing.”
Yet losing out on 130 reservation does more than just kill the party mood.
“Boy, what a financial hit. I don’t know, $15,000 down the tubes probably for tonight,” Varano said.
He hopes to open the doors to the beloved barbeque and blues joint next Wednesday, but says the biggest obstacle is accessibility to COVID tests.
“Because there may be some people who are fine, and we could have had them working! But the fact that we couldn’t test them, they still haven’t got their answer yet,” Varano said.
If you do go out for New Year’s Eve, experts at UConn Health say you should be on the look out for COVID onset in days to come. They say illness on average sets in three days after exposure, but you should be wary from the second you’re in a group setting up to eight days later.
You can consider testing three to five days after exposure, and UConn Health says you should protect others by wearing a mask for 10 days.