Hundreds of Texas bar owners have pledged to open on Saturday, in a mass demonstration against Governor Greg Abbott’s June order, which closed bars to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported on Friday.
On June 26, Abbott ordered bars across the state to close, while allowing restaurants to operate with limited occupancy. Abbott has previously said that he regrets not slowing the reopening of bars when he had the chance.
“If I could go back and redo anything, it would have probably been to slow down the opening of bars, now seeing in the aftermath of how quickly the coronavirus spread in the bar setting,” he said.
Chris Polone, the owner of The Rail Club Live — a Fort Worth music venue — said that if restaurants can reopen safely, so can bars. He told the outlet that bars can follow the same safety measures in place for restaurants in order to protect customers and employees. To bring his point to the governor’s attention, he organized what he’s calling Freedom Fest, a protest in which bars across the state will reopen to flout the rules.
“If you can get every single bar to stand up in solidarity, well, that’s a statement that won’t be ignored,” the venue owner said.
At least 800 bars across the state — located in Fort Worth, Houston, Pasadena, and Sabinal, and other cities — intend to participate. The venues will host concerts, with the proceeds going to charity. Some will serve alcohol, while others, including Polone’s, will not.
“From the outside looking in, it looks like just a bunch of pissed-off bar owners, but in reality we’re trying to express how we could safely open,” he said.
All participating bars must promise to follow certain safety protocols, including taking customers’ temperatures, making hand sanitizer accessible, ensuring that staff and customers practice social distancing, and requiring face masks. At The Rail Club specifically, a germicidal fog that the owner claimed has been approved by the Centers for Disease Control will be sprayed.
Polone stated that the owners have informally agreed to abide by these rules. He continued by saying that if they aren’t willing to follow these rules, then the governor was right to close their bars since they’re contributing to the spread of the pandemic.
Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission spokesman Chris Porter said that his agency knows about the planned protests, and stated that normal inspections will be conducted on Saturday. Any bar found to be illegally open will lose its liquor license for 30 days.