State will decide outdoor plan for Lincoln bars, restaurants

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A number of bars and restaurants in Lincoln would be able to expand their outdoor areas under requests approved Monday by the Lincoln City Council, but a final decision will be left to a state agency.

The council unanimously approved requests by Backswing Brewing, the Hub Cafe and five businesses in The Railyard entertainment district to offer more outdoor seating as they struggle to attract customers still concerned about gathering inside amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The request now goes to the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission, which City Attorney Jeff Kirkpatrick said has been supportive of temporary measures to help restaurants and bars that have been restricted to 50% capacity, according to the Lincoln Journal Star.

Those restrictions have ended, but businesses still must follow social distancing rules and require customers to be seated most of the time. Given that, Kirkpatrick said an expanded outdoor liquor license makes sense.

Doug Dittman, owner of the Hub Cafe, said the change would “help people be more comfortable and safe."

Hobert Rupe, executive director of the Liquor Control Commission, said the agency probably would approve most requests but only for a limited period.

Gov. Pete Ricketts said he hopes to end social distancing requirements by next month. If that happens, Rupe said the commission likely wouldn't allow expanded outdoor licenses.