Art’s Tavern, Blu reopen for curbside in Glen Arbor. Friendly opens in Empire, Riverside in Leland

From staff reports

It’s May Day—international workers day—and a beautiful one in Leelanau County, with sunny skies and temperatures expected to approach 60 degrees.

Local businesses are showing signs of life, despite the global coronavirus pandemic and statewide shutdown. Crystal River Outfitters’ Cyclery in Glen Arbor is servicing bikes, golf courses around Leelanau County are open, and some of our favorite restaurants, too, are beginning to feed us.

Art’s Tavern is once again open for curbside service every day from 11 am until 9 pm after closing for three weeks to reorient its business during this turbulent time.

“The goalpost has been moving so fast,” said owner Tim Barr. “We really didn’t know what was going on [in early April]. Now we have a better idea.”

Art’s held a soft curbside re-opening on Wednesday to serve its popular chicken jalapeno soup, which sold out by 1:30 pm. Today’s special is a Great Lakes Perch Dinner with steak fries or tater tots and a small garden salad for $17.95. Other popular items will include the “surf & turf” (smelt and a blue burger). Glen Arbor’s popular gathering place also serves beer and wine to go. The full takeout menu is available here. Or call 231-334-3754.

Loyal customers have been clamoring for Art’s to reopen. The phone at the tavern rang off the hook through April, as second-home owners called from downstate to say they were driving north to hunker down in their cottages and lakefront homes and to inquire where they could get takeout food. Barr said that he answered 65 calls on his cell phone on a recent day.

“I’ve been telling folks ‘you can take your burgers back to your cottages, but you can’t eat it inside’,” said Barr. “We’d like our summer guests to come and see us, but we want to make sure everyone stays safe.”

Being closed for three weeks felt strange for Barr, whose establishment typically stays open every day of the year except Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“It’s been nice not having to go close up every night,” he chuckled. “I’ve cooked more of my own meals at home than I have in many years.”

Barr and wife Bonnie Nescot decided to reopen once they felt confident they could keep their staff and customers safe. They also felt reassured by evidence that the curve of COVID cases in the Grand Traverse region appears to be flattening.

Art’s had an all-staff meeting yesterday, at which Barr emphasized “wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands. After you get done, wash your hands again.” The tavern is on lockdown. Only staff are allowed inside.

As per longstanding tradition, Art’s does not accept credit cards. Customers picking up curbside must pay with cash or check. Barr said he checked with the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, and local banks, and he knows of no cases of COVID-19 transferred by paper money.

Customers eating well, not just surviving on mac & cheese

Glen Arbor’s fine dining establishment on Lake Michigan, Blu reopens today for curbside service from 4:30-7:30 pm. Owner and chef Randy Chamberlain will post the takeaway menu each Wednesday, for service on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Customers are encouraged to call (231-334-2530) or email ( their orders. Credit cards and checks accepted, not cash.

Randy and Mari Chamberlain were on a scuba diving trip in the Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras in early March, with plans to reopen Blu for Easter. When the pandemic shut down the economy, they decided to postpone curbside service until Mother’s Day. But the Chamberlains finished their self-assigned household projects and decided to launch a week earlier than planned. “We felt restless,” Randy said.

“Reopening this weekend feels similar to when we opened the restaurant for the first time in June 2008—just months before the Great Recession,” said Randy. “Every penny we had then was riding on us being successful with this restaurant. We asked ourselves ‘Are people gonna come? Are they gonna spend like they used to?’ We said ‘let’s do it and hope for the best’.”

The Chamberlains felt reassured that their fine-dining restaurant could continue making money serving curbside when they gleaned in mid-March that Glen Arbor’s seasonal crowd was beginning to arrive from Chicago, from Detroit, from Cincinnati, and from New York. Randy also visited Anderson’s Market and observed that customers were buying lavish products such as shrimp, pork tenderloin, and crab legs.

“People here are spending money,” he said. “They’re not just buying macaroni and cheese and hunkering down. So I thought, ‘maybe we’ll be OK’.”

Randy observed that most in Glen Arbor are acting responsibly, taking precautions and practicing social distancing. He estimates that Blu will serve 30-40 meals per day this weekend.

Blu’s prices have been reduced for curbside service, as Randy doesn’t need to pay overhead costs such as staff and linen cleaning. In fact, the menu includes a few bargains: a 9-pound pork roast family-style dinner (already sold out for today) with potatoes and vegetables that Randy estimates would probably feed 10 people, including leftovers, costs $50. The menu also includes duck and lamb, steaks and salmon.

Safety is the main priority. Randy and Mari are working alone in Blu’s kitchen, which is suddenly filled with paper and takeout products. The cutlery and plates are currently stacked on tables in the dining room.

Riverside Inn opens in Leland, Friendly Tavern in Empire

The Riverside Inn opened yesterday for curbside service, featuring a to-go, regional farm-to-table menu crafted by new executive chef Christine Boerma. Curbside carryout is offered Thursday-Sunday from 5 until 7:30 pm. Weekly menus, featuring two dinners and a bottle of wine for $55, will be posted online each Tuesday. Call 231-256-9971 for information.

In Empire, Joe’s Friendly Tavern is also open for curbside service. To place an order visit their website or call 231-326-5506.

This story was sponsored by the Little Traverse Inn.