Kelly’s Taproom, the pinnacle of University nightlife for upperclassmen, has been a hot topic this semester. Since the pandemic struck, the beloved Kelly’s has kept its doors closed to the public, becoming a source of upset for many students. The continuation of the shutdown has caused waves in the school and greater community, stirring rumors about the bar’s fate and why it continues to stay closed. With so many questions needing answers, The Villanovan reached out to the bar’s owner, Gene Mitchell. The Villanovan received the rundown on all things Kelly’s, finally getting the answers the students have been desiring.
Mitchell, a University alumnus, was well aware of the threat of the pandemic before it hit the United States, due to his primary work in international business. He often works with China, as the Director of International Trade for Tricon Energy, a company responsible for selling fuel primarily from U.S. oil refineries to end users around the world. Mitchell knew that the impending COVID-19 pandemic could affect his secondary business before many business owners in the states knew what was coming.
However, despite his previous awareness about the spread of the virus, when the moment came to shut down the bar, Mitchell admitted, “It was painful for us.”
As with countless small business owners across the country, the arrival of the pandemic caused great trouble for Kelly’s employees. Luckily, Mitchell has another source of income to sustain himself, but many of his employees bear the hardships of the closing.
“Most of our bartenders are full-time people,” Mitchell said. “I would say more than 50 percent of them; it’s their primary income. It’s been stressful for them, but again, they’ve been resilient and they have taken opportunities where they could and have looked to other avenues to make ends meet, but they’re definitely looking to come back.”
With the substantial consequences of closing the bar, many have wondered why Kelly’s has not followed the footsteps of other restaurants, creating an adjusted system of operation that complies with pandemic regulations. Mitchell was able to give his perspective on the situation, shedding light on his reasons for keeping Kelly’s shut down.
“Well, a couple of things,” Mitchell said. “One is that we’re under a high degree of scrutiny from the Township, and anything we do is going to be monitored very closely.”
Mitchell also mentioned his concerns about the difficulty of crowd control. The line for the bar is infamously long in regular times, let alone if limited capacity was to be put in place.
No matter how Mitchell tried to create a solution, he kept finding that opening his bar in the current state of the country would be “extremely difficult.”
Of course, there have been rumors among University students that Kelly’s Taproom might have had other reasons to stay barred from the public. The rumor around campus has been that the University, in an effort to keep COVID-19 cases to a minimum, gave the bar an incentive to stay closed. University administrators, like Dean of Students Tom Demarco and Assistant Dean of Students Nicholas Tumolo, have denied the allegations, but not until now has there been a response about the controversy from the owner of the business in question.
When confronted about the student theory, Mitchell laughed.
“I can absolutely confirm to you, that is not the case,” Mitchell said with amusement.
Mitchell admitted that he had not previously heard the rumor and that, as a Class of 1989 graduate, he would not feel it honorable to put his alma mater in such a position. He described his relationship with the school as a respectful partnership, and as a partner, he would not want to create that type of dynamic.
As for the future of Kelly’s, Mitchell stated that the business will eventually move forward in opening up its doors.
“At some point, we’ve gotta take a step and move towards reopening, we can’t stay closed much longer,” Mitchell said. “I think that we just need to choose what the right time is and what the right steps are and put rules in place that are very clear.”
Mitchell has safety at the core of all his reasoning, hoping that the reopening of the bar will bring an understanding of the most efficient COVID-friendly regulations. Mitchell also mentioned plans for new outdoor dining, an addition awaiting approval by the Township.
Although 2020 will not see the reopening of the bar, Mitchell is confident that the bar will reopen in 2021. When inquired about his confidence levels about seniors seeing the inside of Kelly’s before graduation, Mitchell responded with a resounding “100% percent.”
Even though Kelly’s has kept its doors closed, the bar still looks out for the Villanova community. Mitchell recounted the virtual toasts they have done and gifts they have sent for students who have turned 21 since the start of the pandemic. Also, he expressed a goal he had for the recent 2020 graduates whose last semester was taken.
“It was really tough for the seniors last year,” he said. “We gotta do something special for those guys; they can’t just be forgotten. When the time is right, there will be the right time to have the right party, and we’ll make sure to support those efforts so everybody has a good time.”
Kelly’s is still very much here. One thing Mitchell made clear was that Kelly’s is for the community. More than anything, the bar “is really about the students” and, when fate permits, those students will flock to the venue to once again find joy within the beloved walls.