The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) suspended the licenses of at least six bars and restaurants for failing to enforce the state’s health rules.
A weeklong sting called Operation Safe Open sent agents to inspect businesses around the state and resulted in 30-day suspensions for the Ampersand in Fort Worth, the Whippersnapper in Dallas, and Houston’s Lux Lounge, Standard, Spire, and Sol Billares.
All six businesses temporarily lost their licenses for lackluster enforcement of state protocols including social distancing and capacity limits.
A TABC spokesman said that more suspensions may come as investigations roll on.
“The list includes all businesses which were suspended due to COVID-19 violations,” TABC Public Information Officer Chris Porter said. “We will have more to add following additional inspections each week.”
The organization’s top brass praised the investigation’s results as an effective strike in the effort to stem the spread of COVID-19.
“Protecting the health and safety of Texans during this pandemic is our top priority,” TABC Executive Director Bentley Nettles said. “I’m incredibly proud of all the TABC employees working to ensure Texas bars and restaurants are able to operate safely.”
“These violations represent a very small number of the more than 20,000 licensed businesses inspected by TABC since the beginning of May,” TABC Chairman Kevin J. Lilly said.
“A large majority of business owners are showing their commitment to keeping customers and employees safe, and we’re grateful for all of their hard work. TABC is committed to assisting the industry as we all work for a safe Texas.”
A Houston Chronicle reporter tweeted that the TABC also suspended the license of Houston’s Alamo Bar & Grill after the investigation.
Earlier this month, Governor Greg Abbott loosened some restrictions on bars and punted the authority to reopen to local officials via executive order. The reopenings, limited to half capacity for bars and three-quarters for restaurants, began last week. With the allowance of county judges, bars may reopen in hospital regions with less than 15 percent of hospitalizations due to coronavirus.
The TABC map of counties where bars may reopen shows a sea of green east of the I-35 corridor with empty spots in major cities like Austin, San Antonio, and Houston where county judges or high hospital numbers have kept bars closed.
The state’s rules for bars primarily task owners with herding customers, keeping them away from the bar itself and six feet apart from each other in groups. Restaurants must maintain similar protocols, including mandatory masks, hand sanitizing stations at entryways, and tables of no more than 10 people.
TABC’s list of active suspended retailers may be downloaded here.
Alcohol retailers and manufacturers have suffered greatly during the government-mandated closures. For the food and beverage industry, the state draws the line between businesses that may open based on the percent of alcohol sales as total revenue. Establishments that make 51 percent or more of their total revenue from alcohol sales have been separated from those able to reopen sooner and more widely.
But that classification had been based on outdated revenue figures and was not flexible enough to account for business owners adapting their models to fit new rules and bring in sales.
After pressure from legislators and business owners, the state adjusted its requirements, allowing for some flexibility. Even so, many continue to struggle. The Texas Bar and Nightclub Alliance reacted to the new allowances, calling the leeway given to local officials a “death sentence” for the establishments in more liberally-run counties.
Some bar owners have outright defied the state and local closure orders, accusing the government of ham-handedly inhibiting “51 percenters.”
Two lawsuits have been filed against the state over its closure orders. The first, in federal court, failed for a lack of standing. The second, filed in state court, is pending in a Travis County District Court.
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