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Chris Polone rips up a TABC order to close. The Rail Club owner organized Saturday's Freedom Fest, during which more than 300 Texas bars planned to reopen in defiance of Gov. Greg Abbott's order.
Chris Polone rips up a TABC order to close. The Rail Club owner organized Saturday's Freedom Fest, during which more than 300 Texas bars planned to reopen in defiance of Gov. Greg Abbott's order.
Levi Leveridge

Freedom Fest Bar Protest Went Down Smoothly, Organizer Says

There weren’t any hiccups in Freedom Fest, Saturday’s statewide bar protest, according to its organizer. More than 300 bars said they would be joining the demonstration by hosting benefits that day in defiance of an order from Gov. Greg Abbott closing bars on account of the pandemic.

Organizer Chris Polone, who owns The Rail Club Live in Fort Worth, estimates that $100,000 was raised for various charities. His own event collected $400 for Brandi’s Play in the Shade, a nonprofit that provides shade for children’s playgrounds.

“I was expecting there to be a lot of problems to deal with that day, but none. None. None,” Polone said with a laugh. “It went without a hitch. It was awesome.”

Many participating bars did not serve alcohol, Polone said, although it was up to each club owner to decide.

Polone said that Saturday, Fort Worth officials told him that they would not shut down The Rail Club’s event. To his knowledge, no other participating bar was made to close.

Afterward, Polone said that the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission informed multiple club owners that an undercover agent had been in attendance, The Rail Club included. Polone said that isn’t true, however; his event was invite-only, and he knew each of the 40 attendees.

“I know [the TABC is] making it up,” he said. “I knew every single person in that room.”

A spokesman for the state’s alcoholic beverage regulatory agency said 1,600 investigations were conducted statewide over the weekend. Around 18 suspensions were issued Monday morning to bars that refused to comply with Abbott’s order, the names of which have yet to be released.

Even if he receives a suspension, Polone said that won’t stop him from throwing another mass protest. Instead of calling it Freedom Fest, though, he said he’ll give it a different name.

“We’re just getting started,” Polone said.

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