AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission has temporarily suspended the alcohol permits of Texas bars — including two in Austin — after agents say they weren’t following protocols to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The suspensions are part of a new initiative by the TABC called Operation Safe Open.

The two Austin bars are both in downtown: Buford’s Backyard Beer Garden and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Icehouse.

Andre Culbreth lives near West 6th, he says before COVID he would frequent the bars often. Now, he’s been avoiding the bars for his own safety.

“Buford’s has been packed out, I guess because they have the patio. Right here at Foxtrot, they’ve had a decent amount of people,” said Andre Culbreth.

That’s not the case for the hundreds of people who have been out to the West 6th bars.

“There’s usually more people. You can tell it’s not as busy. I’ve been here at least 10 times in the last month,” said Sean Downling. “For the most part, Foxtrot seems like they follow all of the regulations.”

Foxtrot has a sign posted outside its door with a list of safety protocols it says they’re following. Those protocols include: not allowing parties of 10 or more to be seated together, suggesting people remain seated when drinking and that they are sanitizing the tables and bar stools after use.

TABC says bars must follow minimum health standard protocols required by the Governor’s Strike Force to Open Texas. The agency says it found that the bars were failing a number of social-distancing guidelines, including:

  • Groups should maintain at least 6 feet of distance from other groups at all times
  • Customers should not be permitted to loiter at the bar or in commonly trafficked areas, and should remain seated at tables inside the bar
  • Pathways for patrons’ ingress and egress should be clear and unobstructed

On Satuday, the TABC shared a video taken at Buford’s, showing what it says are violations of social distancing and safety guidelines.

Werk Bar in El Paso, Marty’s Live in Dallas and Elevate Night Club in McAllen received 30-day suspensions on the first night of the operation. The TABC says its agents inspected more than 200 businesses that night.

As part of Operation Safe Open, agents are making sure that bars keep capacity limits of 50% and restaurants keep theirs at 75%. Agents are also watching to see whether at least six feet of social distancing is being kept between groups of customers.

“Protecting the health and safety of Texans during this pandemic is our top priority,” TABC Executive Director Bentley Nettles said. “We warned businesses TABC will have no tolerance for breaking the rules, and now, some bars are paying the price. I hope other establishments will learn from these suspensions.”

The TABC says it will continue to monitor bar and restaurant activity and issue up to 30-day license suspensions for those that do not follow state mandates during the pandemic. If a bar or restaurant receives a second suspension, it will be for up to 60 days.

Over the past month, the TABC says its agents have inspected more than 3,000 establishments across the state.