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Austin bars apply to reopen as restaurants; 6th Street business starts to pick back up

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission recently said that qualifying bars could apply to operate as restaurants.

AUSTIN, Texas — You may start to see several bars opening up around Austin, but things will look very different. Bars that are approved to be open will have to operate as restaurants.

Recently, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) changed its guidance to allow businesses to use alcohol sales projections or show that they recently had less than 51% alcohol sales in order to apply for a Food and Beverage Certificate. If granted, the businesses could then reopen as restaurants.

Several Austin bars have made the switch to become restaurants in the last few months, including The Tavern over on Twelfth Street. The TABC said the bar had its application processed on Aug. 4. It opened on Aug. 19. 

"Of course [we are] grateful that we were able to open," said Megan Jhelm, a bartender at The Tavern. "We just appreciate people being patient with us while we figure it all out."

According to a spokesperson for TABC, the agency continues to enforce the governor’s executive orders at locations across the state, including at businesses that recently reopened to operate as restaurants.

According to the City of Austin, the Austin Code, Fire and Police departments enforce City orders and health authority rules, while TABC enforces State-level orders on bars. The City of Austin and Travis County don't have additional COVID-19 regulations specifically on bars beyond the governor's orders.

TABC said since June 26, 70 bars statewide have been cited and received 30-day license suspensions due to safety violations. A viewer sent KVUE the video below of long lines outside of a few bars on Sixth Street over the weekend:

The Texas Bar and Nightclub Alliance (TBNA) announced an "industry plan" for safe, sustained reopening on Tuesday, comprised of six major principles. Those include: 

  • Indoor space occupancy not to exceed 50%, with outdoor open-air occupancy limited only to each businesses' ability to implement appropriate social distancing of tables in its outdoor spaces.
  • All seating must conform to CDC guidelines and hand sanitizer stations should be required at all entrances/exits.
  • All patrons must be seated while inside the establishment with their own cohort, with no cohort mingling. No dance floors, stages or other mixed-cohort areas allowed.
  • Masks should be required by patrons at all times unless seated and served, including entering, exiting and moving from one area of the bar to another. Masks will be required by all staff at all times while working.
  • In addition to checking identification for the appropriate age, bars must conduct a temperature check and basic symptom assessment of all customers before allowing entry.
  • Open partnership with any local and state officials/agencies to provide necessary oversight of individual bars' adherence to the reopening plan in order to close bad actors and ensure widespread industry compliance.

"Texas is continuing to coexist with this virus and we have strong models for success in similar businesses, such as restaurants – many of which serve an incredibly high volume of alcohol – that are a blueprint for us to follow," TBNA Founder and President Michael Klein said. "We are asking the governor, along with our local elected officials, to aide in the implementation and enforcement of these principles and help us get to a place where all bars can open safely and sustainably."

WATCH: Texas bars reopening as restaurants

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