Dallas bar Bottled Blonde did not break COVID-19 overcrowding rules, say 2 government agencies

Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and Dallas Code Compliance agents have visited Bottled Blonde nightclub in Dallas several times in the past few weeks and found no violations, according to state and city records audited by the Dallas Morning News.

People gather in front of Deep Bottled Blonde in Deep Ellum on August 28, 2020, the day TABC awarded a food and beverage certificate.(Jason Janik / Special Contributor)

The Deep Ellum business was investigated after people complained. A message from KDFW-TV (Channel 4) also claimed that Bottled Blonde “still mostly functions like a bar,” despite the fact that the bars of Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas, had to be temporarily closed to keep the coronavirus from spreading contain.

More than 650 bars across Texas, including Bottled Blonde, have been given the green light to reopen after receiving food and beverage certificates from TABC. The Katy Trail Ice House in Uptown Dallas, Billy Bobs Texas in Fort Worth, and Texas Live in Arlington are three major Dallas-Fort Worth venues that were allowed to reopen during the pandemic.

However, medical experts like these three Texan doctors say that North Texans would make themselves and others safer if they didn’t put themselves in bars.

Bars in Texas are technically closed under a mandate from Governor Greg Abbott.  But bars get special food and beverage certificates from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, and more open every week.  Should you go to one

Bottled Blonde’s Problem: “Perception is Reality”

The Dallas Morning News photos from last two Friday nights show Bottled Blonde with a crowd waiting to get into the bar, some without a mask. Mike Massof, the assistant general manager, says the optics – that Bottled Blonde looks busy even though he says she follows safety protocols – hurts her reputation.

“That was our biggest hurdle,” says Massof. “But as you know, perception is reality.”

Guests mingle at Bottled Blonde in Dallas on September 11, 2020. Guests mingle at Bottled Blonde in Dallas on September 11, 2020. (Jason Janik / Special Contributor)

According to the Code Compliance investigation, Bottled Blonde has not exceeded its allowable capacity.

Bottled Blonde is a large venue – 22,000 square feet – and according to Code Compliance, the company keeps its occupancy below 50% within the venue under Abbott’s mandate.

City records indicate that Code Compliance visited Bottled Blonde six times between April 15 and August 29 to see if the company was meeting the governor’s COVID-19 mandates and meeting the requirement to be below 50% the occupancy to stay. No violations were found in four of these visits, according to city records. At two o’clock the bar was closed.

TABC opened a separate investigation looking for violations of the governor’s ordinance and checking for public safety concerns, such as: B. Customers consuming excessive amounts of alcohol. TABC visited Bottled Blonde four times in late June and July after the governor closed the bars and closed each time. TABC has not released a record of correspondence between the agency and Bottled Blonde, but spokesman Chris Porter confirms that no violations have been identified and the investigation is complete.

According to Porter, TABC has conducted “at least two dozen inspections” since the bar opened in 2017, some of which were undercover.

Security guards at Bottled Blonde check temperatures before customers enter on September 11, 2020.Security guards at Bottled Blonde check temperatures before customers enter on September 11, 2020.(Jason Janik / Special Contributor)

So how can the bar allow a lot of people and still comply with state protocols? Bottled Blonde is roomy, a bit bigger than a Michaels craft store or about twice the size of most Trader Joe’s grocery stores. City records show the occupancy of Bottled Blonde with 1,984 people. According to Abbott’s decisions, the limit is 992 people at a capacity of 50%.

A number of guests at the facility on Aug. 29 showed 411 people in the house, according to Code Compliance.

Guests wait in line outside Bottled Blonde in Dallas on September 11, 2020. Guests wait in line outside Bottled Blonde in Dallas on September 11, 2020. (Jason Janik / Special Contributor)

According to Massof, all employees are required to wear masks and the bar has installed hand sanitizing stations in the bathrooms and on the bars. Patrons who don’t eat or drink are asked to wear masks, he says. The security team is instructed to ask customers to mask themselves when they get up to go to the bathroom and have no face covering.

All Texas businesses continue to require masks to comply with Executive Order GA-29. This arrangement also states that anyone who eats, drinks or sits in a restaurant can remove their mask. The news observed around midnight on Aug. 28 that about half of Bottled Blonde’s customers wore masks while queuing outside, but very few masks inside.

“To be a very popular place, we have security outside that balances a social distancing of 6 feet,” says Massof. “You can do the best you can, but it’s very difficult to tell people what to do when they’re not in your company.”

How to switch from the bar to the restaurant

With Bottled Blonde’s Food and Beverage Certificate issued on Aug 28, it is now necessary to sell more food than alcohol – which could be a significant challenge. Bottled Blonde sells more alcohol than almost any other bar in North Texas. In 2019, Bottled Blonde’s gross mixed beverage earnings averaged $ 1.1 million per month. For some of those months, Bottled Blonde was the highest grossing bar in the area.

And although Bottled Blonde has had a kitchen since it opened in Deep Ellum in 2017, the TABC classification has been a bar.

On August 28, 2020, people will gather in front of the backyard entrance of Bottled Blonde in Deep Ellum.On August 28, 2020, people will gather in front of the backyard entrance of Bottled Blonde in Deep Ellum.(Jason Janik / Special Contributor)

Still, Massof says that Bottled Blonde is “a full-fledged restaurant during the day.” In order to achieve the required share of sales, Bottled Blonde customers must buy food with bottle service.

The company also keeps its kitchen open until 2 a.m. to encourage food sales. The kitchen used to be closed at 10 p.m.

According to its website, the nightclub has been renamed as “Pizzeria and Beer Garden”. A video shows servers throwing flour at each other while making pizza.

The company also has a takeaway pizza window at the back of the building. However, it is not operational.

There's a late night pizza place at the back of Bottled Blonde in Deep Ellum.  It was inoperative on August 28, 2020 or September 11, 2020, and the Deputy General Manager confirmed that it is currently inoperative.There’s a late night pizza place at the back of Bottled Blonde in Deep Ellum. It was inoperative on August 28, 2020 or September 11, 2020, and the Deputy General Manager confirmed that it is currently inoperative.(Jason Janik / Special Contributor)

Why new rules in Texas are helping bars reopen

A series of “emergency changes” by TABC made it easier for Texan companies to reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The amendments say: “Many facilities that would otherwise have remained closed can reopen and operate safely as a result of these amendments.”

The changes “will not only help mitigate the economic crisis in the state of Texas resulting from the COVID-19 disaster, but will also protect the well-being of thousands of members of the regulated industry and their employees who depend on the revenues of these institutions themselves and theirs.” Support families. “

Bars, like Bottled Blonde, can apply for a food and drink certificate. Other new rules lift the requirements to allow bars to shift their total revenue to the majority of grocery sales rather than alcohol sales.

Many bars remain closed, however: the governor’s order remains in place requiring companies that generate 51% or more of their income from alcohol sales to temporarily close.

Owner Kim Finch poses for a portrait in the live music area of ​​her Bar Double Wide in old east Dallas on Friday, June 26, 2020.  Texas governor Greg Abbott took further countermeasures on Friday to contain a spate of coronavirus infections, closing bars, ordering restaurants to return to 50% capacity, closing river rafting outfits and giving local officials off The July 4th holidays have more control over large gatherings.  “I feel defeated.  I've tried so hard, ”Finch said, adding that Double Wide only reopened last Friday since investing in construction projects to increase the space for seating areas and provide additional training for staff to safely reopen .Guests eat, drink and mingle on August 28, 2020 at Bottled Blonde in Deep Ellum. Guests eat, drink and mingle on August 28, 2020 at Bottled Blonde in Deep Ellum. (Jason Janik / Special Contributor)

As the bars keep opening, experts say customer behavior could lead to the spread of COVID-19.

“Bars are a place where we gather,” said Dr. Erin Carlson, Associate Clinical Professor and Director of Public Health Programs at UT-Arlington’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation. “And unfortunately, collecting is currently not safe during COVID.”

TABC spokesman Porter says the agency will continue to monitor businesses that were bars and are now classified as restaurants. Although the investigation into Bottled Blonde is complete, she and other entities must follow the governor’s instructions and could be subject to an “enhanced inspection schedule,” Porter says.

The responsibility lies with both citizens and government agencies to look further. Complaints can be submitted by email to [email protected], by phone to 888-THE-TABC or via the mobile TABC app.

Jeremy Hallock contributed to this report.

For more food news, follow Sarah Blaskovich on Twitter @sblaskovich.

Billy Bobs Texas was closed on March 13 for restrictions to contain the spread of COVID-19.  It reopened on June 18 and closed again on June 26, according to Governor Greg Abbott's orders to close the bar.  After Billy Bobs Texas revised some documents with TABC, he plans to reopen as a restaurant on August 13, 2020.Doctors look at a lung CT image in a hospital in Xiaogan, China.

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