Nashville bars, limited-service restaurants to reopen Monday with restrictions

Posted at 9:13 AM, Aug 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-17 21:25:36-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Nashville bars will be able to open on Monday as the city moves into a "modified phase two" of its reopening plan.

Under the new regulations, bars and limited-service restaurants will be able to operate with restrictions. The bars can have no more than 25 customers inside, with space for everyone to be socially distanced. All customers must be seated, and bar counters must remain closed.

At Dee's Country Cocktail Lounge in Madison, owners spent Sunday getting prepared for the reopening.

"Tidy up a little bit, get everything in place, get everything restocked," Co-Owner Daniel Walker said.

"I'm overwhelmed with excitement just to have the opportunity to open our doors again!" Co-Owner Amy Richardson said.

While a 25 customer limit doesn't seem like a lot, the owners said it's better than zero customers.

"It keeps my lights on, keeps my rent paid," Richardson said.

"And it keeps some of our employees that have stayed with us and done their best to be employees we can count on, it gives us a chance to give them some income as well," Walker added.

It's not the first time Richardson and Walker have prepared to reopen their doors. In June, Nashville allowed bars to reopen, only to close them down two weeks later as COVID-19 cases surged.

"I can't focus on the 'What if we get closed down again' because that's not where our energy needs to be spent," Richardson said.

Instead, the owners are spending that energy making sure things are safe. And making sure they're ready to welcome in customers.

"We're making sure we have all our staff in place and that tomorrow people will know that they have to wear a mask and stay socially distanced," Walker said.

Ric Clarke owns The Red Door Saloon in Midtown says they too are trying to remain optimistic given the circumstances.

They’re hoping Monday can serve as a soft opening for what may come in September if we continue to trend in the right direction with COVID-19.

Clarke says many of his colleagues, including bar owners on Broadway, decided against opening, mainly because the cost to do so was too much.

The Honky Town Heroes campaign which is made up of a coalition of bars and restaurants in Nashville, offered this statement:

“We are encouraged to see Nashville’s numbers continue to trend down and increased compliance of mask-wearing along with our Be a Honky Tonk Hero campaign, MNPD’s enforcement and other public health measures. Unfortunately, 25 people is an arbitrary number that is largely unworkable for most bars and limited-service restaurants. Worst of all, this order does nothing to help our thousands of struggling employees and musicians. The order disregards that our larger capacity venues can act as restaurants and can safely socially distance much larger crowds, bringing people off the streets and into a controlled setting. We want to open and act as advocates for best health practices and control behavior, but it will not be realistic for many of us to open under such unreasonable parameters. We can be successful serving safely as restaurants do and urge reconsideration of the capacity out of respect for our employees who are at a critical point as they have now gone months without paychecks.”

Clarke says most places are hoping that by September, we can return to capacity based on the size of the bar. At The Red Door Saloon, they have the space to keep dozens of people socially-distanced, but Clarke says they will follow the rules to avoid any setbacks.

“I’m not saying we’re perfect but we’re trying to do everything we can to make this work for everyone. Our industry is literally on the verge of bankruptcy,” Clarke said.

As new rules limit capacity, Clarke says he knows there’s no profit to be made. His bar needs to have at least 50 percent occupancy for that to happen. At the very least, Clarke says he’s keeping staff employed and ready for when business does pick up.

“There are young men and women, young adults that work for us and many other bars in Nashville that are getting to the point where they are going to be living in their cars. They are going to be asked to leave homes and it’s sad. We’ve got to get back open on a percentage basis,” Clarke said.

For that to happen, Clarke is calling on all bar owners to make responsible decisions knowing what they do could have repercussions on the service industry locally.

“Do the right thing because it’s right. If the mayor says this is the way it is, don’t push back. Don’t make it hard for the rest of us guys trying to do it the right way,” Clarke said.

Restaurants can still serve at half capacity and all bars and restaurants must close by 10:30 p.m.