The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) finally temporarily suspended the liquor permits of three Austin bars over failure to follow COVID-19 mitigation measures during the ongoing pandemic: West Sixth bars Buford’s Beer Garden, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, and Unbarlievable’s second location, as well as East Sixth bar Soho Lounge.
These suspensions will last for 30 days, with Buford’s and Whiskey Tango’s permits pausing as of Saturday, June 20; Unbarlievable’s as of Sunday, June 21; and Soho Lounge’s as of Monday, June 22. Second violations will lead to 60-day suspensions.
This is part of TABC’s “Operation Safe Open,” where the agency checked out bars across the state to ensure businesses were following novel coronavirus mitigation guidelines starting on Friday, June 19. Before that, TABC issued a press release on June 17 stating that it was “warning” bars and restaurants that they had to follow these rules or face these permit suspensions.
It’s worth noting that many bars in Texas were in violation of these rules prior to Friday. People pointed out that Buford’s hasn’t been following social distancing measures for a while, as indicated by social media posts over Memorial Day weekend.
Recently, Buford’s owner Bob Woody complained about the new mask mandate order — where employees and staffers of businesses are required to wear masks in Austin and Travis County — as well as general social distancing measures, and compared his businesses to the recent protests against anti-Black violence and police brutality. “When I do something wrong, what do I get?,” he said to the Austin Business Journal. “I get threats. I get enforcement. I get punishments.”
Unbarlievable’s owner is Brandon Cash, the same person who left misogynist and racist replies on negative online reviews of the bar in 2017. The bar expanded with a second location on 513 West Sixth Street earlier this spring.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot co-owners Shabawn Espili and Kahran Espili opened the bar in 2018. They sold the building to a developer in May, but the bar remains open for the time being. The bar’s operation director Austin Talley requested a hearing with TABC, because they believe that the agency “did not advise, warn, or express any concern of an alleged ‘threat to the public welfare” during its inspection on Friday, as reported by KXAN.
Soho Lounge opened on East Sixth Street in 2007 and switched to new owners in 2017.
Texas bars were allowed reopen for service as of last month while requiring to implement social distancing measures. This means operating with 50-percent indoor capacities (as of June 3) with table seating and full outdoor capacities, offering only table service — which means bars must install tables and chairs if they didn’t previously have them — maintaining six feet of distance between groups of customers, and limiting groups to ten people or less.
UPDATE: Permits suspended for seven more bars as part of Operation Safe Open. Learn more: https://t.co/w5X2KTSkFI— Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (@TexasABC) June 21, 2020
Video at The New PR’s in Fort Worth and UnBARlievable (West 6th) in Austin ⬇️ 1/3 pic.twitter.com/YGLFx0x6gB
Update, June 23, 9:36 a.m. This article, originally published on Monday, June 22, has been updated to include an additional bar suspension and updates from Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.