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Thursday, May 6, 2021

The Underground opens up the pit again

After a year-long closure, the popular Bellingham club returns to the local nightlife scene

The Underground venue is silent at sunset in Bellingham, Wash. on April 11, 2021. After a year-long closure, the Underground reopened its doors to the public on April 2, 2021.
The Underground venue is silent at sunset in Bellingham, Wash. on April 11, 2021 following long-awaited nights of partying the previous weekend. After a year-long closure, The Underground reopened its doors to the public on April 2, 2021. // Photo by Clay Wren

By Clay Wren

The Underground nightclub opened its doors on Friday, April 2, after over a year in hibernation. 

According to the governor’s office’s Phase 3 indoor entertainment requirements, karaoke, games and indoor seating are allowed, with adherence to social distancing. As social distancing is required, dancing is not allowed, and the venue is only open from 9 p.m. to 12 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.

Julie Rofkar, co-owner of both The Underground and The Royal nightclubs with Brian Tines, said that there has been hesitation about patrons returning, because “it’s a dance club, so people want to go out dancing, but that’s not allowed.”

Rofkar and Tines have made efforts to safeguard the venue from COVID-19 transmission, including revamping the layout, limiting admission and strictly adhering to cleaning protocols. 

“The best things you can do to stay safe at a nightclub are the same things you would do to stay safe anywhere outside the home: wear a mask, stay 6 feet away from other people you don’t live with, wash or sanitize your hands regularly and download WA Notify on your phone,” said Jennifer Moon, Whatcom County Health Department’s public information officer, via email. WA Notify is an application that uses smartphones to alert users if they have been exposed to COVID-19.

Moon said the safety of indoor spaces depends on compliance with the “Roadmap to Recovery” Phase 3 mandates, but recommended avoiding crowded indoor spaces “until medical experts say it’s safe to resume such activities,” vaccinated or not. The guidance mandates a maximum 50% capacity, along with stipulations for indoor seating.

Anna Smith, a Western alumna from the class of 2021, went to The Underground during the opening weekend to celebrate a friend’s birthday. She said that the scene was way more relaxed compared to the nightclub before the pandemic. “I didn’t have to wait in line, wait to get a drink,” she said.

Smith said that as well as being vaccinated, she keeps a small circle of friends and follows social distancing guidelines. Smith said that she would probably not attend if she wasn’t vaccinated.

“Overall, I felt pretty safe in regard to [COVID-19],” she said.

Tines and Rofkar have owned The Underground for over ten years, but are uncertain over its future.

“[We] still don’t have a clear path, we are limping along right now,” Tines said. Both co-owners were reluctant to re-open The Underground at all. 

They are expecting that Phase 4 will allow dancing, but are uncertain about that timeline. Pierce, Cowlitz and Whitman counties were recently moved back to Phase 2.

“We really don’t know what to expect, or how we are gonna do it, but we have to try,” Rofkar said.

The Washington State Health Department mandates nightclubs to close at midnight, which Tines said is primetime, noting that early closures hurt the sales. “We don’t get busy until 10:00-10:30,” he said.

As more people get vaccinated, Tines predicted that the nightclub scene will come back “stronger than before the pandemic, I think people are really looking forward to something to do.”

Tines pointed towards the Roaring Twenties after the 1918 pandemic from the H1N1 virus.

“I think the nightclub scene will be very vibrant,” he said.

Clay Wren is a third-year finance major and journalism minor who uncovers the hidden stories of Bellingham. He can be reached any time at wrenc2@wwu.edu.

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