The Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission got busy last weekend. Last Wednesday, it issued a warning to businesses that weekend plans included “strictly monitoring bar and restaurant activity” to ensure compliance with the state’s protocols. They warned they would take swift action and suspend liquor licenses for 30 days for first-time violators. They did just that.
Specifically, the TABC is looking for capacity compliance: 50% indoor for bars, 75% indoor for restaurants and social distancing of at least 6 feet between groups of customers throughout bars and restaurants. (The recent mask requirement issued by Dallas County is to be enforced by Dallas Health and Human Services. TABC has nothing to do with masks; their protocols don't require masks except for valets.)
During an enforcement action called “Operation Safe Open,” TABC agents visited businesses across the state. While most were in compliance, those who weren’t were listed on full blast on TABC's Twitter.
In a press release, the TABC listed 17 businesses that were issued an emergency order for a 30-day permit suspension as the result of undercover investigations, including five on Monday. Four of them are in North Texas: Harris House of Heroes and Marty’s Live in Dallas and New PR’s (aka PR’s Saloon) and The Cantina in Fort Worth.
Harris House of Heroes was perhaps already on their radar after reports and media coverage from an incident reported by WFAA May 21. Neighbors complained the restaurant wasn't complying with 25% capacity limits at the time.
An attorney for Harris House of Heroes released a statement to NBC 5 in which he said it started to rain, so patrons from the outdoor area sought refuge inside, creating a temporary capacity problem.
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"We are shocked and in disbelief that TABC would take such harsh corrective actions in suspending the sale of alcohol for 30 days," he said. "My client has not had the opportunity to file a grievance, nor have they had an opportunity to be heard from TABC state officials. A 30-day suspension during a time when everyone is suffering through this pandemic is certainly unreasonable."
An attorney for PR's issued a statement that they're proud they raised $7,000 for Fort Worth Police officer Matthew Brazeal, who recently sustained catastrophic injuries while in the line of duty. They also argue the constitutionality of the occupancy restrictions:
"Without opportunity to be heard, today PR’s Saloon’s permit was suspended predicated upon an alleged violation of the occupancy restrictions of Governor Abbott’s Executive Order No. GA-26. But, this executive order is itself unconstitutional for violating the separation-of-powers doctrine. Under the Texas Constitution, the Legislature — not Governor Abbott — has the exclusive authority to enact or suspend laws, even if Governor Abbott calls the 'law' an executive order."
TABC will continue to monitor bars across the state regularly.