Two Austin bars dispute permit suspension, say TABC didn’t indicate issues during inspection

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Two Austin bars, Soho Lounge and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Icehouse, will be appealing 30-day license suspensions from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, which cited the businesses for violating COVID-19 orders.

TABC has suspended the licenses of 17 bars in Texas, four in Austin, as part of “Operation Safe Open.” The operation aims to ensure that bars are complying with Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order allowing bars to reopen at 50% capacity.

“What we’re looking for, by in large, are the clear and obvious violations of the governor’s orders,” said Chris Porter, public information officer for TABC.

TABC agents have visited more than 600 businesses in the state since last Friday, including 209 in Central Texas.

Austin Talley, the Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Icehouse operation director, said Monday it filed a request for a hearing and believes it has “acted in good faith in following the guidelines.” In a statement, Talley said the bar at 701 West Sixth Street reopened “in compliance with the guidelines of the Governor’s Executive Order.”

“On the evening of June 19, 2020, during an inspection of the premises, the State officials did not advise, warn or express any concern of an alleged ‘threat to the public welfare.’ On the contrary, the State officials expressed their satisfaction with Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Icehouse’s compliance and action, and allowed us to continue operating without any changes or concerns,” Talley’s statement said.

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission this week announced it would begin enforcement of social distancing and capacity rules outlined on the governor’s website, after initially focusing on educating owners. It tweeted out photos of the bar from Friday showing crowds before its permit was suspended.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Icehouse had a sign posted outside its door with a list of safety protocols that 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.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Icehouse’s statement continued, saying the business believes a 30-day suspension is “excessive” and “the same as putting them out of business.” It said it has more than 50 employees and contractors who would be affected by a shutdown.

Soho Lounge on East Sixth St. had its license suspended after TABC said, on June 20, the bar “failed to operate its business in accordance with the capacity limitations for bars.”

Owner Brandon Burleson said he spoke to TABC agents outside of his bar early Sunday morning while 75-100 customers were inside the bar, below 50% capacity. He is unsure if undercover agents were in the bar.

“They gave me the thumbs up and said ‘You’re good to go Mr. Burleson. Have a good night!'” Burleson said.

Burleson said a 30-day suspension could shut down his bar for good after already enduring a two-month closure because of COVID-19.

He said he’s still waiting for proof from TABC about the rules he violated.

“If you think the bars are that bad and we’re not doing what we need to do and you’re thinking that young people are the problem of why COVID-19 is passing then shut the bars down,” Burleson said. “You can’t have it both ways.”

TABC has said a second offense could lead to a 60-day suspension.

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