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'Getting slapped in the face' | Owner frustrated with Judge Wolff's plan to reopen bars

Bars can't let customers congregate at the bar top. Stools have to be removed. Establishments will have to make sure their ventilation systems operate properly.

SAN ANTONIO — Bexar County bars can get back to business soon. On Wednesday, Judge Nelson Wolff gave them the go-ahead. But, they'll have to follow a list of rules to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

However, Don Marsh, owner of the bar 1919, called the restrictions a slap in the face.

"It is like they are trying to kill us," he said.

For six months, his more than 1,600 liquor bottles have been just collecting dust.

"We are broke right now," he said. "We are scraping everything we have. I am about to have an estate sale at my house."

The vocal Southtown bar owner has mixed feelings about Judge Wolff's announcement about when bars can open. While most could open today in Texas, bars like 1919 in Bexar County will have to wait until next week.

Below is a list of the requirements, that Judge Wolff said will be mandatory.

  • Occupancy of no more than 50% total capacity indoors, and 50% total capacity outdoors
  • No standing or congregating indoors or outdoors while waiting for a table or entering/exiting.
  • Create pre-set 6-foot distanced circles to help patrons observe safety measures.
  • Ensure that ventilation systems operate properly and increase circulation of outdoor air as much as possible, for example by opening windows and doors and prioritizing outdoor seating.
  • Face coverings should be consistently and correctly worn if not actively eating or drinking. This includes while dancing.
  • Keep tables at least 6 feet apart.
  • No seating of multiple parties at one table
  • No ordering, seating, or congregating at bar (remove bar stools or take out of service)
  • Actively encourage employees to stay home when they are sick or have been exposed, for example through flexible sick leave policies.

"It is like saying you are a good kid, but getting slapped in face," Marsh said. "We have more restrictions than restaurants."

Bars can't let customers order, sit, or congregate at the actual bar top itself. Stools have to be removed. These establishments will have to make sure their ventilation systems operate properly. Marsh thinks it is unfair that bars not serving food have to take more precautions than those who do.

"Serving chicken wings does not get rid of COVID," he said. "The frame of mind that they are in, I just don't get it."

Judge Wolff said it is not the same. He said the other 2,500 bars in the area that have re-opened as restaurants took a big expense.

"They took a big expense to start serving food; these bars don't have to do that," he said. "They do have to follow some common sense regulations. They are not onerous they are just good common sense recommendations."

Judge Wolff has to file some additional paperwork with the state to make this official. The goal for the bars to open is Tuesday, according to the county. However, Judge Wolff's timeline is just early next week. This would impact about 425 bars in the area who have not re-opened as restaurants.

The judge also announced potential grants worth a total of up to $3 million for restaurants and bars impacted by COVID-19.