The Penguin joins the list of local businesses in Columbia that have closed permanently due to the financial stresses of the pandemic.

“We started to go to the other bars and [The Penguin] was one of the bars we had gone to in passing,” graduate student, Kennedi Keyes, said. “The rest is history. We celebrated lots of nights there. It’s bittersweet that it’s going out [of business].

The Penguin, a local piano bar and nightclub in downtown Columbia, Mo., announced it would close its doors permanently as a repercussion of the COVID-19 pandemic on Aug. 29. Many students, including 2015 University of Missouri graduate student, Kennedi Keyes, were upset when they found out about the bar’s closing through social media. “There was a lot of shock, and people were sad,” Keyes said. “It kind of feels like an end of an era for me. The spots I used to go to are closing, most of my friends are gone and my time here is coming to an end.”

Keyes was one of many who left mournful comments on the bar's Instagram page. Over 4,000 people liked the image, and 721 people left comments reminiscing on their time spent at the establishment. MU alumnus Daniel Tappana left a comment recalling a night when he — with a fair amount of liquid courage — acted as an impromptu bartender at The Penguin.

“A fight broke out in the bar near the front entrance, and the bartender took off and tried to help,” Tappana said. “My drunk logic was to keep the drinks flowing, otherwise there would be more fighting. So I jumped behind the bar and started pouring drinks out to folks. It felt like an eternity, but it was probably just five to ten minutes [before] the bartender came back and was like, ‘What the hell are you doing?’”

Tappana said whenever his friends go on vacation, it is still a running joke to ask him, “Hey man, are you going to get behind the bar tonight?”

On The Penguin’s website, it says the establishment had to close after strict pandemic restrictions were imposed on the city of Columbia, and “no assistance was offered”. The bar’s owner, Jesse Garcia, declined to comment on the bar’s closing, but did say that First Ward Council Member Pat Fowler has been quiet about the “devastation of Columbia’s small businesses.” Fowler also refused to comment.

According to an article in The Missourian, the city received $573,473 from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to be used for business loans. Microbusiness loans of $5,000 will be distributed to 35 businesses that have five employees or less on Sept. 15. Randy Cole, Housing Programs Manager for the city of Columbia, said the remainder of the funds will go towards rental assistance, administrative costs and helping Turning Point and Room at the Inn, two organizations that are creating space for homeless individuals in Columbia to safely social distance.

“People are losing their livelihoods,” Wright said. “As much as I loved to go to [The Penguin] and have fun, it was people’s livelihoods and what paid their bills. I think it’s important to highlight that people are losing their jobs and not receiving a lot of the relief they need.”

Former MU student Grace Langan was an employee at The Penguin from August to the beginning of the bar’s temporary close in March. Langan said it was one of the best work experiences she has had in her whole life.

“I’ve never worked with people that have cared about their employees as much as they did,” Langan said. “There were days when I needed to take off for mental health reasons, and it was an hour before my shift, and they were so understanding and helpful. I even had a coworker ask me if [I] wanted to have a girls day because she knew that I was having a hard time.”

Garcia said he will return to Columbia once the current restrictions are lifted to try and save his other business, The Social Room.

“The Penguin employed college students, so it sucks that there are less job opportunities,” Tappana said. “It’s also sad because there are so many memories, whether they’re coherent or hazy: A lot of good times were had there. Everyone experienced every emotion when they were at the Penguin, so it’s a shame to see it go out like that.”

Edited by Lucy Caile|lcaile@themaneater.com

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