July 27, 2020 -- Hundreds of bar owners across Texas reopened for business on Saturday to protest Gov. Greg Abbott’s closure order.
About 800 bars have pledged to take part in the event called “Freedom Fest,” according to a Facebook post by event organizer Chris Polone, owner of Fort Worth music venue The Rail Club Live. The bars say they plan to offer music and charge for entry, with proceeds going to a charity of their choosing.
Polone and other bar owners say it’s not fair that they’ve been forced to close but restaurants, bowling alleys, and other high-traffic businesses are allowed to operate, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
“If you can get every single bar to stand up in solidarity, well, that’s a statement that won’t be ignored,” Polone said.
Bars reopened along with the rest of the Texas economy after months of lockdown, but Abbott took a step back after coronavirus cases began to surge in Texas, citing crowded bars as one of the reasons. On June 26, he issued an executive order that closed businesses making 51% or more of their gross revenue from alcohol sales in an effort to curb the spread of the virus.
That’s why Polone calls himself and other bar owners “51%ers.”
Abbott said contact tracing showed people congregating in bars fueled the surge in coronavirus cases.
"If I could go back and redo anything, it probably would have 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 in an interview with TV station KVIA.
The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission knows about Freedom Fest and will conduct normal inspections on Saturday, TABC spokesperson Chris Porter said, according to the Star-Telegram. He said the TABC could suspend a bar’s liquor license for 30 days.
Polone lost his liquor license July 4 while holding a similar protest at his bar and will not be selling drinks.
His Facebook page says bars owners are supposed to follow safety protocols, which includes taking customers’ temperatures before they enter, encouraging social distancing, requiring face coverings, and having hand sanitizer available.
Texas is now one of America’s coronavirus hotspots, with more than 366,000 cases, 4,500 deaths and some hospital ICU’s near capacity.