New regulations allowing bars to reclassify as restaurants

Posted at 5:24 PM, Sep 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-23 20:08:02-04

It was last call for Texas bars in late June when Gov. Greg Abbott closed them, citing the then-rising number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

Last week, the governor reopened restaurants to 75 percent, but said bars would stay closed for now.

So why are some open? Because the state threw bars a lifeline in August, and many are taking advantage.

“Feels good to be opening back up after we’ve been closed for about six months,” said Bar Under the Sun owner Ben Lomax.

Lomax is glad to be back in business.

“The state threw a lifeline to restaurants, but those same lifelines weren’t extended to bars,” he said. “Bars have been sloppy dying over six months.”

Another state agency, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, stepped in to help.

“The TABC helped out, probably right in the nick of time, as a lot of bars were starting to shut down,” he said.

In late August, the TABC changed its rules about how bars and restaurants are licensed. Pre-pandemic, if 51 percent or more of a locale's sales came from alcohol, it was considered a bar.

Now, if you have a commercial kitchen, or partner with an outside vendor, such as a food truck, you're allowed to open at 75 percent capacity, just like a restaurant.

“TABC has been good about that, not requiring a full-on kitchen build-out to get your food and beverage permit,” Lomax said.

Since August, several local bars have applied for the food and beverage certificate. The process takes about two weeks, and requires verification by TABC.

“It was a huge struggle, but we did what we had to do,” said Nueces Brewing Company co-owner Cale Moore. “We had to add a kitchen, and we were able to basically re-license ourselves as a restaurant.”

Under the new rules, 60 percent of sales can come from alcohol. Also, food has to be available whenever the bar is open, and the menu needs at least two options.

“We’ve got the food, we’ve got the beer,” said Moore. “We’re operating as well as we can.”