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Chizuko in a hampered state, guests tentative behind their masks and socially distanced in an environment built on sociability would not be chizuko. 

For that reason, the co-owners of the now permanently closed vegan restaurant, bar and concert hall in Pensacola opted not to compromise their identity. Instead, the popular late-night spot has remained fully closed for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic — even while holding the COVID-19 era golden ticket that is a food license. 

“Chizuko’s really, it’s a vibe. It’s an experience. Here, every night’s a party,” said Jess Laws, who has owned the bar with her partner, Daisy Doyle, since January 2017. “We didn’t want to re-open unless we could re-open fully and re-open the right way.”

On Aug. 8, Laws, Doyle and chizuko kitchen manager Kevin Hinds made the official decision to end their run at 506. W. Belmont St. in Belmont-DeVilliers.

Chizuko’s all-inclusive, underground dive bar spirit will follow to its new location, which is still undecided. The owners said there’s no timetable for a re-opening and they have yet to start courting possible locations. 

Coming & going

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Cypress restaurant, retail shop to permanently close, owners will sublease dining room

Cumaru Bar opens at Pensacola Beach Marina as part of multi-phase restaurant and bar project

Like nearly everyone else, the trio behind chizuko didn’t originally expect the pandemic to last so long. They thought they could overcome the financial hit that came with staying closed. The idea of to-go sales was kicked around more than once, but ultimately, chizuko’s owners weren’t willing to push ahead at half-speed.

“Now look at us,” Doyle joked Friday, surrounded by huge piles of alcohol inventory and disarranged pieces of the bar’s trademark vintage decor and furniture, most of which was sold or will be sold at in-person and online auctions. 

During the first of two chizuko virtual auctions, Doyle and Laws sold the wall-length mirror that hung behind the bar, their Victorian sofa set and even the recipe for Hinds’ kimchi tater salad.

“We’re holding on to at least a couple of recipes, but people keep telling us they’re dying for our food again, so that was a way to hold them over,” Laws said. 

A line of supporters wrapped around the chizuko building Thursday for the bar’s physical yard sale. Doyle and Laws are well-known thrift shop aficionados, and their regulars knew that. 

“When I travel, I like to go check out bars alone and I hate when there’s nothing to look at,” Laws said. “And a lot of people have told me, ‘I can sit at this bar and always find something new to look at.'” 

“Everybody has their favorite little thing,” Doyle added. 

In the lead-up to the second and final chizuko online auction Sunday, Doyle, Laws and Hinds all predicted that the bar’s life-sized coffin would net the highest bid of any item.

“People are fighting over that one,” Doyle said. 

The coffin was custom-made by a friend and artist and was introduced as a means to carry out a band’s lead singer during chizuko’s first Halloween party in 2017. 

“We had it leaned up in the corner and people would just get in it and take pictures,” Doyle said. 

Just about every musical genre and form of live entertainment has graced the stage at chizuko at one point. The business was run by decision makers who were never afraid to experiment with off-hand events and attractions, which inspired Hinds to describe chizuko’s first three years as Pensacola’s “late-night rec center.” 

Once the bar and restaurant found its niche, Laws and Doyle said their expectations were exceeded.

“The one thing we always said, and our main goal since the beginning, was we wanted every single person who walked through the door to feel comfortable,” Laws said. “So that is a driving force in every single thing we do. There have been times when an older person has come in and said, ‘Oh I shouldn’t be here.’ And we’d say, ‘What are you talking about, of course, you should be here.'”

Laws said Friday that chizoku’s concept will remain intact, no matter the address. 

“It’s very genuine. We did things exactly the way we wanted to do,” Laws said. “And we’re going to keep doing that.”

Visit chizuko’s Facebook page if you’d like to participate in the ongoing online auction, which ends sometime Sunday evening. 

Jake Newby can be reached at jnewby@pnj.com or 850-435-8538.

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