Poag Mahone’s and Thompson’s Keely: “I hope people come out. Everyone has a different idea of safety, and that’s OK. You do what you feel you should do.” Photo by Vishal Malhotra

Lisa Little-Adams believes it’s “disappointing, to be sure.”

The owner of the Near Southside cocktail lounge Proper “cannot make sense of how [state leaders] are rationalizing allowing certain businesses to open and not others,” including bars like hers.

Though in April Gov. Greg Abbott said he intended for bars to reopen by “mid-May,” the second phase of his plan to reopen Texas gradually which he announced on May 5 included only nail salons, hair salons, barbershops, swimming pools, and indoor wedding/event venues, all subject to the 25% capacity mandate and social distancing guidelines.

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Starting May 18, office buildings, nonessential manufacturers, and gyms can reopen with 25% occupancy, under the condition that employees must avoid congregating and maintain social distancing. Gyms are permitted to reopen under the requirements that showers and locker rooms must remain closed (but restrooms may be open), equipment must be disinfected after each use, customers must wear gloves, and individuals must maintain 6-foot social distancing.

Little-Adams pointed out that tattoo studios and massage parlors necessitate more physical contact than bars, yet bars were put in the same category as them when referring to their reopening.

She said, “I was so curious, in fact, I sent a request to the governor’s office and asked for them to help explain it to me.”

She received the automated response: “Your request for assistance will be reviewed by the appropriate staff member.”

Little-Adams added, “Nothing really to be done except wait.”

Morgan Roberts was also disappointed that bars were not included in Phase 2. “It seems a little unfair that the bars haven’t been given the go-ahead to open up,” said the owner of The Local in Crockett Row, “while almost every other business has gotten the green light. I don’t see much difference in being able to grab a drink at a restaurant bar opposed to an establishment that just serves” drinks.

The Local is part of the Texas Bar and Nightclub Alliance, and Roberts said the group is pushing to get bars reopened.

“They’ve put together a 10-point plan for us to follow, so we’re hoping to get news from them,” he said.

Glen Keely, co-owner of Poag Mahone’s Irish Pub in the West 7th corridor and Thompson’s Bookstore downtown, doesn’t understand why churches can place mass amounts of people under one roof, yet he can’t have 20 people in a bar to have a couple beers.

“We have the same protocols as restaurants,” Keely said, “so [the coronavirus] wouldn’t spread any more differently than it would in any of the other businesses. I’m not a scientist, though, so I can’t judge. We can only do what’s in our power.”

Keely took the governor’s plan for restaurants and applied it to his operations. “Most of the stuff was already things that we did to stay within being right with the food and health department,” Keely said. “They were normal business practices, and we can ramp that up and do more. We gave point-by-point examples on how we can do that, and we were met with the generic response from a strike force team that they got our email, thanks.”

There was no answer when Keely called the governor’s office.

Another problem Keely sees is that while restaurants can sell alcohol to go, he — and other bar-bar owners — still cannot.

“As far as the to-go [alcohol] … we can buy pre-manufactured food to sell along with our booze so that we could get out some of the inventory that we’re sitting on,” Keely said, “but [the state is] not even giving us the opportunity to save ourselves with that factor. They’re just completely freezing us out.”

Keely said that he can’t speak for others, but he is upset with Abbott’s decision and disappointed. “It is what it is,” Keely said. “At this point, we just have to keep playing their game.”

Managing partner at the upscale Near Southside cocktail lounge The Usual, Jason Pollard doesn’t believe there was any “malice” in Abbott not allowing bars to reopen as part of Phase 2. Pollard just thinks bar-bars are an afterthought to state leaders.

“We’re just not at the table,” Pollard said. “There are very large restaurant groups, but bar-bars tend to be independently owned neighborhood spots, so our voices aren’t being heard. Whether that’s to-go cocktails or when to reopen.”

Pollard has signed petitions and contacted both the governor’s and the comptroller’s offices. He believes that one of the things the comptroller could have done to “get out ahead of this” was defer the tax payments from February’s sales that were due three days after bars were told to shut down.

“For most bars,” Pollard said, “that tax payment is one of, if not the biggest line item on their budget every month, and the way that most bars are set up is that the sales in March pay for the taxes from February. And the people I talked to weren’t asking for total forgiveness but simply to push [tax payments] back until we could have revenue coming in again.

“I’ve seen a few people with some good ideas,” Pollard added, “but no one has been able to get any real traction or attention.”

Pollard said he has been racking his brain trying to figure out what a bar is going to look like when they do reopen.

“I know that all of us are looking at how to be as safe as possible, but what does that really look like?” he asked. “I think that the virus is going to spread in areas where people are not taking precautions, and that can be anywhere.”

Until Abbott releases the next phase of his plan to reopen Texas, bars are left waiting in the dark, in need of reopening their doors for business. Calls to the governor’s office and the state health department were not returned by press time.