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Fort Worth Bar’s Liquor License Suspended for Social Distancing and Masking Violations

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) suspended Varsity Tavern’s liquor license for 30 days last Friday after alleged coronavirus operating violations.

TABC agents inspected the Fort Worth bar’s premises and identified overcapacity congestion.

“On or about February 4, 2021, Permittee failed to operate its business in accordance with the social distancing requirements and minimum standard health protocols recommended by DSHS,” the emergency order states.

“[E]mployees and Permittee’s patrons were not wearing face coverings.”

TABC Executive Director Bentley Nettle concluded, “I have determined that the continued operation of Permittee’s business would constitute a continuing threat to the public welfare.”

The ruling can be appealed but that process can take longer than the duration of the 30-day suspension itself.

Operating license suspensions intensified last summer after bars were permitted by the state to reopen with strict protocols. The weekend before Governor Abbott re-closed bars statewide, 17 bars were hit with TABC suspensions for violations uncovered in a broad sting operation.

Another wave occurred in October.

Varsity Tavern isn’t the first Fort Worth bar to find itself at the sharp end of the TABC’s stick. Chris Polone, owner of Rail Club Live, has made a name for himself defying the state’s shutdown orders and TABC violations crackdowns.

The state traces its ability to levy such orders to the Texas Disaster Act of 1975’s provisions allowing the “suspen[sion] or limit[ation]” of alcohol and the control movement to and from premises.

Those regulations include requiring patrons to sit at tables and not gather in common areas, maintaining six feet between other groups, and limiting group size to no more than six people.

Last fall, Abbott adjusted the state’s policy on bar openings. Bars could reopen at 50 percent capacity with the county judge’s approval if its respective hospital region’s coronavirus hospitalizations stayed below 15 percent. Currently, Trauma Service Area E, in which the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex sits, has surpassed that 15 percent metric for the previous seven days.

The line between a restaurant and bar is set by the state’s 51 percent alcohol sales classification — the sales ratio of food to alcohol. That metric is used to determine whether concealed carry is permitted. But the state has deployed that distinction here to determine separate categories of businesses for reopening.

This led to problems for businesses that had adapted their business model to function more as restaurants but whose permits were based on pre-coronavirus sales. The TABC adjusted this policy, allowing establishments to file updated receipts to fit under the threshold. Many businesses have taken advantage of this opportunity to restructure.

According to Vance Ginn, chief economist at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, nearly 3,100 bars across Texas converted to restaurants from late June through the end of 2020.

Throughout the pandemic, bars have topped the list of businesses monitored closely by the state.

Varsity Tavern did not return interview requests by the time of publishing.

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