SAN ANTONIO — With lights turned on and music blaring without a customer in sight, San Antonio bars sought to send a message to state leaders on Friday: They're ready to reopen.
The Texas-wide show of solidarity was dubbed the "Turn Up the Lights In Unity" event, and it comes as Gov. Greg Abbott has yet to set a date for when bars in the Lone Star State can welcome back patrons.
The Friendly Spot Ice House and Drink Texas are among the dozens of San Antonio bars the participated. Jody Bailey Newman helped submit a plan to Abbott, along with the Texas Bar & Nightclub Alliance, to show that bars have been thinking about their safety measures amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"We did it with safety in mind and with health experts," Newman said.
Here are some of the points on that plan, mostly relating to businesses that make more than half of their profits from alcohol sales:
- 51% licenses will maintain occupancy in accordance with Centers for Disease Control recommendations and in collaboration with the state, aligning with full-service restaurants.
- 51% licenses will install tables and chairs to eliminate open areas and encourage patrons to sit instead of stand to maintain social distancing.
- 51% licenses will hire additional door staff to ensure that social distancing guidelines are met and that groups of patrons do not form. This will also provide additional jobs for Texans.
- 51% licenses will adhere to the Texas Restaurant Promise adopted in the Phase I opening of restaurants.
- Coordination with local city governments to maintain the suspension of road closures in entertainment districts.
- Adoption of single-use plastic cups and paper plates.
- Mandatory and supervised use of hand sanitizer before entry and re-entry.
- Encourage all staff to retake Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission certification class online.
- All staff must wear masks during operating hours and encourage patrons to wear masks.
- Enforcement: TABC has legal authority to immediately suspend any license that poses an immediate threat or danger to public safety for 90 days.
"We are just turning up our lights to remind everybody that we have served safely for years and we look forward to serving safely again," Newman said.
On Friday, the bars showed they can social distance and also had sanitizing stations. Staff members, meanwhile, were wearing masks. Newman said their plan is to protect both employees and patrons.
At their daily briefing on Friday, Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff discussed what it would take, in their eyes, for bars to reopen.
"If they can limit occupancy, maintain distancing of patrons, not have bar service at all, more like a restaurant seating—that might work," the mayor said. "When you mix alcohol with a requirement for good behavior, it is very difficult. I would like to see it work."
"It's indeed a greater risk and one that we have to be careful about," Wolff added.
Abbott has said he will make another announcement on Monday on the state's coronavirus response, and is hinting that bars could be part of it.