Austin’s curfew targeted at bars, not restaurants, due to TABC loophole

AUSTIN (KXAN) – In Austin’s new curfew, restaurants and bars will be closed from 10:30 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings from 10:30 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. on the upcoming holiday weekend. However, the curfew appears to be so tight that the city is apparently targeting bars that the state is allowed to reopen as restaurants.

The dine-in service is still available in restaurants for most of the day – from 6 a.m. to 10.30 p.m. Restaurants are allowed to stay open overnight after 10.30 p.m. in order to be delivered, taken away and driven. through services.

Travis County still has not allowed bars to legally reopen during the pandemic. That means every bar that you’ve reopened in the past few months has reopened as a restaurant.

Dr. Mark Escott, Austin Public Health’s interim health agency, says most of these bars still function as bars, even though they are now technically restaurants. Escott has sharply criticized bars, calling them a “threat”. He told the Travis County Commissioners on December 22nd that they had to “take action” against these bars.

“If we could close one thing, that one thing would be bars,” Escott said at the time.

A day later, Austin switched to Level 5 in its risk-based guidelines.

On Monday Escott said again: “We need [bars] shut down. They endanger public health. “

Then came the dine-in restrictions on Tuesday.

How TABC enabled bars to reopen as restaurants

On August 21, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission changed its rules to make it easier for bars to reopen as restaurants.

Previously, bars had to have commercial kitchens in order to be classed as a restaurant and a specific space to prepare food. The changes to TABC rule 33.5 allowed bars to sell and reopen any type of food. This includes packaged foods that do not have to be prepared on site.

Bars were also allowed to partner with food trucks, which many did before the pandemic.

Bartender Katie McGranahan pours beer at Saint Arnold Brewing Company in Houston on Friday, June 26, 2020. Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced Friday that he will be closing bars again and reducing restaurant capacity to 50% in response to the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in Texas. (AP Photo / David J. Phillip)

Abbott criticizes the Austin curfew after taking heat himself to turn off the bar

On June 26, Governor Abbott ordered all bars to close amid a summer spike in COVID-19 cases.

“If I could go back and repeat something, it would probably have been slowing the opening of bars after seeing how quickly the coronavirus was spreading in the bar setting,” Abbott said at the time.

Then, in September, as COVID-19 cases receded, Abbott outlined a new reopening plan but kept the bars closed. Bar owners and some in his own party were very critical.

On October 7, Abbott allowed the bars to reopen at the discretion of each district judge. Travis County was the only county in the KXAN viewing area that has not yet made a decision to reopen bars.

However, the TABC loophole has somewhat withdrawn the decision-making process from the district’s judges.

With active COVID-19 cases as high as this summer, Austin acted with a three-day curfew on these bars.

Abbott was very critical of the move, saying, “This Austin shutdown order is not allowed. Period.”

This Austin shutdown order is not allowed. Period.

My arrangement prevents cities like Austin from arbitrarily closing stores.

The city has a responsibility to enforce existing orders, not new ones. https://t.co/rm00K1bQQl

– Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) December 30, 2020

KXAN is working to clarify with the state why the Texas governor and attorney general are against Austin’s actions. Other counties, including El Paso and Bexar, introduced curfews for the holidays earlier this year.

Bar owners say they are taking steps to keep people safe and make a living

However, bar owners say they are doing everything they can to comply with the rules and fight security breaches.

Niles Patel, operator of The Venue ATX on 6th Street, said he invested thousands of dollars in extra tables, chairs and televisions to keep all of his customers seated. They also added additional security for enforcement and security guidelines for visitors.

“Everyone who comes through the door must read these statements,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can.”

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