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Gallatin County health officials warned four downtown Bozeman bars earlier this month for overcrowding, allowing patrons to walk around inside and not maintaining social distancing.

The Gallatin City-County Health Department sent warning letters to Bar IX, the Pour House, the Crystal Bar and the American Legion dated June 17, notifying the bars they were violating an emergency health rule.

Copies of the letters were provided to the Chronicle on Monday. The letters included photographs taken on June 13 of crowded bars, people playing pool and people not seated at a table in the bars.

The letter, signed by health officer Matt Kelley, said the businesses violated requirements for capacity, bar seating and social distancing. It asked the bars to come up with a plan for meeting the requirements. Failure to take corrective actions, the letter said, could result in formal enforcement, which may include civil litigation or criminal prosecution, against a bar owner, employees or the business.

The letter said the health department received a call on June 13 from a concerned citizen who said several downtown bars were operating in violation of local regulations. On the same day, health officials said they saw bar-goers standing in each of the businesses with no attempts made by employees to maintain social distancing among customers. The letter said it appeared that the bars each surpassed 75% of capacity.

The health department hasn’t issued any warnings since the four sent earlier this month.

A rule adopted by the Gallatin County health board said all patrons at bars must have a place to sit — standing and mingling at the bar or elsewhere is prohibited. The rule said people should not sit within 6 feet of a well or taps or an area where drinks are passed to servers or other places used to prepare or serve food and drinks.

The rule allows a designated area, away from other customers, where bar patrons may order and receive drinks. However, the rule said, people should return to their seats once a person has received their drink and must adhere to strict social distancing guidelines.

Kelley said that each bar owner sent the health department a plan on how their business would further prevent violations. He said health officials inspected the bars the week after the letters were sent and saw improvements.

Kelley said the health department would continue to make sure businesses follow the emergency rule.

“We can’t be everywhere all at once, but we’re going to continue to do spot checks and do what we can to encourage compliance,” he said.

Each of the four bar owners responded to the warning letters with a list of ways to prevent violating the health rules. In the letters, the bar owners said, employees would enforce social distancing, chairs and tables would be spaced 6 feet apart and patrons would be required to sit at a table with their parties.

Mike Schaff, with the American Legion, said the people working the night of the violations were not doing their jobs and that there were too many customers “mingling around.” He said the bar recently had an employee meeting and agreed to take out some seating, shut down the pool table and properly enforce the health rule.

Schaff said he wanted his bar to be part of the solution, not the problem, and is trying to abide by the rules.

“We broke the rules and we’re trying to fix it,” he said.

Chad Yurashak, owner of Bar IX, said in a letter that the bar would train security staff to keep track of capacity so that the bar would stay within its limits. He said that most things listed were already implemented since the bar was allowed to reopen.

“However, formally trained security staff has not been needed until recently,” Yurashak said.

An unsigned letter from the Pour House said the bar has taped off the south and east sides of the bar. The letter said that standing bar-goers would be asked to return to their tables where an employee would take their orders.

Attorney Brian Ortega responded to the county’s warning letter on behalf of the Crystal Bar and said the bar would have up to 40 chairs inside, below the bar’s 75% capacity of roughly 65 people, and require people to sit.

“If any patron is standing, then staff will make any patron return to their seat or that patron will be asked to leave,” Ortega wrote.

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Freddy Monares can be reached at fmonares@dailychronicle.com or at 406-582-2630.