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Jason Zeman has learned a lot about running businesses in the midst of a global pandemic this year — with all of the temporary closures, precautions and delays that have come with it.

"We initially prepared, back in February, with the anticipated opening of May but put things on hold when COVID happened,"  Zeman told the Press-Citizen in an email. "We should be open Friday."

Zeman's new venture is the Players Sports Bar & Grill located at 219 Iowa Ave., the former home of the Mexican restaurant El Patron. The soon-to-open venue represents the most recent addition to owner Zeman's array of downtown businesses catering to Iowa City's nightlife, including Eden Lounge, Studio 13 and Yacht Club.

While Studio 13 is a nightclub, Eden is an "ultra-lounge," sporting evening entertainment, and Yacht Club focuses on live music and comedy; Players, Zeman said, will distinguish itself from his other venues with its menu.

"Players is a full restaurant and sports bar with a large outdoor patio, an expanded menu, including many vegetarian options, with the largest late-night menu available downtown," Zeman wrote.

This past June, Zeman lamented in a Facebook post the lack of leadership from the state government as COVID-19 numbers were beginning to rise again, prompting him to temporarily close his businesses and gauge safety precautions.

Now, on the cusp of opening a new business, he's had to hold off on opening longer than planned. Zeman said his staff is implementing the by-now-familiar precautions: limiting capacity, requiring guests to wear face coverings and spreading out available seating so people are physically distanced.

"I feel much more confident now than six months ago in our ability to operate safely while still allowing everyone who is comfortable to come out," Zeman wrote. He said his other venues have made online entertainment available, too.

"We — and almost all businesses — have bills that haven't changed, so we're doing the best we can to balance things and keep moving forward until a viable treatment and/or vaccine is available."

Isaac Hamlet covers arts, entertainment and culture at the Press-Citizen. Reach him at ihamlet@press-citizen.com or (319)-688-4247, follow him on Twitter @IsaacHamlet.

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