LOUISVILLE, Ky. — It may have only been two years ago when the NCAA men's basketball tournament last tipped off and masks and social distancing were far from everyone's minds, but it can seem like a distant memory after more than a year of the coronavirus pandemic.
"Two years ago, to walk from one spot in here to the other, it took you about three minutes because it was elbow to elbow," Joe Bishop said. "And I can't wait to get back to that."
The NCAA basketball tournaments are back and that means the fans are back too at Bungalow Joe's Bar and Grill.
"It's great because you're back here with your friends and everybody's having a good time," Buddy Hall, a regular visitor, said.
"At 1 o'clock, we had a wait," Bishop, the bar's owner, said. "It's the first time that we've had a wait in the afternoon since COVID started."
Bishop said he still follows the state health guidelines, which limit his capacity indoors to just 60% – around 28 people— in the bar area of his establishment. But it is a step in the right direction, especially after both the bars and the NCAA tournaments were shut down last year.
"It was terrible last year," Hall said. "And it's bad this year because UK's not in there."
While Kentucky, Louisville and Indiana are all watching the tournament from home, their fans are still going out in hopes of catching a Cinderella story - or a bracket buster depending on which side of the fence you're on. Bishop said he had expected a much smaller crowd with the hometown teams left off the tournament bracket.
"We ran very close today," he said. "It was very difficult. I didn't bank on people showing up without those teams in there, but I was wrong."
Another boost for Bishop and other bar owners is Governor Andy Beshear's decision to allow bars to push last call back to midnight. Bars are now allowed to stay open until 1 a.m.
"It's not going to add that much in sales to me, but really, I'm in the customer service business and for me to take somebody and kick them out my restaurant when they're still enjoying their meal, when they're watching a ball game is not what I want to do," Bishop said.