West Sixth bar Buford’s Beer Garden reopened this weekend — like many bars across Texas— but it appears that the Austin bar didn’t follow many of the COVID-19 preventative guidelines issued by the state government.
Over the long weekend, both Buford’s account and patrons of the bar posted several Instagram stories depicting crowded rooms, long lines to enter, people ordering from the bar, people crowding and sitting at the bar top, and general lack of social distancing. These images and videos were also shared on social media and Reddit.
While the outdoors are exempt from the 25 percent indoor capacity limitation, those alfresco spaces are still supposed to adhere to social distancing requirements. Bars were also supposed to implement table service and block off the physical bar tops from customers, to discourage the gathering of people. Likewise, groups were supposed to maintain distances of six feet from one another.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler took to Twitter on Sunday to call out Buford’s (along with nightclub Plaza de Toros R3). He asked that people follow social distancing guidelines and mask recommendations “to give the Governor’s reopening of the economy the best chance to succeed — and last.”
People also took to Buford’s Instagram to comment on the lack of social distancing. One person indicated that they reported the bar to Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) and the Austin Police Department. Bars that that don’t follow the Texas guidelines could face license suspensions of 30 days for first offenses and 60 days for second offenses.
TABC Public Information Officer Chris Porter shared the following information:
TABC agents did meet with several bar owners over the weekend to address possible violations. Each of these was resolved through education and warnings, meaning the bar was able to voluntarily comply with the Governor’s executive order without the need for formal action from TABC.
Agents will continue to investigate complaints of potential violations as they come in. TABC’s goal is to ensure bars and restaurants have the information they need to operate safely while complying with the Governor’s health and safety guidelines. Any potential action against a business would come following repeat violations or an imminent risk to public health.
Porter couldn’t disclose which bar owners the agency met with.
Buford’s hasn’t responded to these criticisms. Instead, it posted a Facebook album featuring photos of customers from Friday, May 22. The backgrounds depict people sitting at the bar and crowds. Eater has reached out to Buford’s for further comments.
Buford’s is owned by Bob Woody, who runs several other bars across the city, including The Ranch, Shakespeare’s Pub, and Buckshot. He is also a member of the Texas Bar & Nightclub Association. That group led a state-wide “soft open” event on May 15 to show that these bars could reopen safely with COVID-19 preventative guidelines, ahead of when the governor did issue the order reopening bars.
Buford’s opened in 2017 and had previously been steampunk-ish bar Steampunk Saloon, which opened in 2015. It had taken over the old Opal Divine’s space.
Update, May 26, 10:40 a.m. This article, originally published on Tuesday, May 26, has been updated to include comments from TABC.