Despite Major TABC Rule Changes, Dallas Bars are Still in Crisis
The iconic Deep Ellum Bar Double Wide has been vacant since March 16, when Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson ordered all bars and restaurants across the city to close their doors to contain the spread of the coronavirus. This means that owner Kim Finch, who also runs the single wide bar on Greenville Avenue, has missed out on untold revenue while still needing money to pay for insurance, rents and bills.
That could change soon, however, thanks to a new waiver from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) that would allow bars without a kitchen to sell prepackaged groceries or partner with food trucks to meet the 51 percent target of revenue, which requires a food and beverage license. It’s just the latest in a series of exemptions made by the agency to help bars during the COVID-19 pandemic, but many Dallas owners say these measures just aren’t enough.
In March, Governor Greg Abbott issued a waiver that would allow operations to sell take-away cocktails for the first time in Texas history, but it only applied to restaurants. Then TABC announced that bars could sell take-away cocktails, but only if they were served with food prepared in an on-site commercial kitchen. That meant bars like Double Wide, which didn’t have their own kitchen, were forced to close completely with no end in sight.
“I’m a little pissed off right now,” Finch tells Eater. “In order for us to open, we still have to pay and wait for a new permit and figure out how to serve food, which costs us both money. We need to retrain and possibly hire new employees and they are hard to find right now. It’s not as easy as they make it sound. We can’t just swing the doors open tomorrow. ”
A challenge awaits for bars that have never served food before. Although they are able to sell prepackaged food, equipment and packaging still need to be purchased and safe food handling implemented – all of which cost money. Finch is also skeptical that she could convince a food truck operator to park in front of her bar from open to closed. “It’s not realistic to have a food truck [Double Wide and Single Wide] every day from open to closed, ”says Finch. “No truck will make enough money for it.”
Like the Double Wide, the Deep Ellum Distillery has been closed for months. Now the owners are trying to figure out how to reopen as soon as possible under the new guidelines. “We don’t have a kitchen or anything, so we have to figure out how it works,” says General Manager Aaron Wang. Currently the distillery plans to partner with local food trucks like The Colony’s Barrel and Bones and Basic Taco to serve food.
The lack of a plan for distillers is particularly annoying considering that at the beginning of the crisis the state of Texas asked distillers to relocate their production lines to make hand sanitizer when there was a shortage of products. “It’s just crazy for me. The state asked us for help, and we did it on our own. We gave the city of Dallas, hospitals and first responders over-the-counter disinfectant, ”said Wang. “It cost us thousands and thousands of dollars to make hand sanitizer and we’ve been closed for months.”
Finch finds the waiver particularly annoying considering Abbott has been negotiating with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to come up with a plan that will allow fans to close the AT&T Stadium during the NFL season to enter. According to Abbott’s Open Texas plan, sporting events are currently allowed to fill 50 percent of their venues, which could mean about 40,000 people crowd into the AT&T stadium on Sundays.
Even before that final waiver, some Dallas bars, such as Shoals Sound and Service, had plans to reopen as restaurants. However, this also means finding your way through the labyrinthine bureaucracy of TABC and other agencies that regulate the operation of bars and restaurants. Shoals owner Omar Yeefoon sent the affidavit and other necessary documentation to TABC over a week ago and is still waiting for a response from the agency.
“The public sees such movements and thinks they are actually stepping in to help, but they are not,” says Yeefoon. “It is a bureaucracy that makes a judgment, then another bureaucracy that makes a different judgment. Sometimes they are contradicting each other. How do we even know how to proceed? We need definitive answers and we need to stop jumping through hoops just to make ends meet. “
For many bars, this last waiver isn’t a real lifeline – it’s too little, too late. In the past five months, some of the city’s long-standing drinking destinations, like the iconic Deep Ellum Goth Club Lizard Lounge and Addison’s Mercy Wine Bar, have permanently closed their doors. Without some relief beyond the limited capacity opening, many of Dallas’ favorite bars are likely to suffer a similar fate.
“We’re going to see something in this industry that you wouldn’t believe. When the boards come out the windows and people leave their homes this fall, they will see the aftermath of their favorite restaurants and bars closing, ”says Yeefoon. “Those who will be open will hobble and do a completely different business than they did before just to survive.”