WOODBRIDGE, Virginia — For a few brief hours, things almost seemed normal at a popular waterside bar in Northern Virginia. The Harbour Grille in Woodbridge reopened its outdoor deck to diners, but hours later shut it back down, before Memorial Day weekend even got underway.
Its co-owner insists it was just a mistake, not defiance of government orders to keep restaurants closed to dining until COVID-19 is under control. But it touched off a fierce debate.
The restaurant on the Occoquan River is all but silent again now. The chairs on the deck block people from eating and drinking on-site, in compliance with Northern Virginia's continued shutdown orders, and a handful of workers subsist on the meager tips from takeout.
"We're getting killed right now," co-owner Leo LaPointe said. "Big time!"
The Harbour Grille announced on Facebook that it was opening its deck Wednesday, sparking a back-and-forth comment war.
"Liberate Virginia, Recall Northam," one person posted, with a picture of the governor looking puzzled.
"Quit being so damn selfish," someone else responded.
"Customers came in -- they were rejoicing," LaPointe said.
Thursday afternoon, LaPointe posted that he was closing completely, including carryout, until the end of the month.
The co-owner said he thought a Tuesday 5-3 vote by the Prince William County Board of Supervisors had given restaurants the right to welcome customers back to outdoor spaces. But, it turns out the governor had rejected the local board's request.
"I listened to the request," Gov. Northam said at a news conference Wednesday. "I take everything into consideration, but as best we can, we're trying to be consistent."
"[Northam] says one thing one week, and then he changes it the next week," LaPointe lamented.
Prince William County Supervisor Margaret Angela Franklin (D-Woodbridge) said she supports struggling small businesses, but she voted with three other supervisors against asking the governor to loosen restrictions on restaurants.
"My zip code has the highest cases in the entire commonwealth," Franklin said. "That means that as of now, we're not quite ready to make that next step."
Supervisor Vic Angry voted with the majority of five to let restaurants reopen for outdoor dining.
"I know my last name is Angry," he said. "But it's my goal for people not to be angry."
But the back and forth has left a lot of people furious, and it's not clear when that will change.
Gov. Northam said his timeline for reopening Northern Virginia will be determined by the health data -- new cases, deaths, hospitalizations, protective equipment and more.