Operators of a tavern open for weeks despite state orders meant to close bars during the coronavirus pandemic said Friday they wouldn’t abide by state-mandated social distancing guidelines other Texas bars are expected to follow when they reopen this weekend.
Sharky’s Tavern, 504 25th St., operated at full capacity Thursday night, and owners intended to do so Friday and for the foreseeable future, said Jared Woodfill, a Houston attorney representing the bar in a lawsuit challenging the city’s authority to enforce emergency orders issued by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
“Sharky’s was open at full capacity last night,” Woodfill said.
As part of a new round of reopening, Abbott this week said bars could open provided operators limited the number of people inside to 25 percent of their building’s capacity.
Restaurant dining rooms Friday were allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity under Abbott’s order.
Sharky’s would not follow those guidelines, Woodfill said Friday.
“There’s going to be another battle on this whole 25 percent deal,” Woodfill said.
Sharky’s Tavern opened in 2018. It is owned by Holly Landry and John David Robertson, a candidate for the Galveston City Council. Although the business serves wood-fired pizza, it’s classified as a bar by Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and displays a sign that indicates more than 51 percent of its sales come from alcohol.
After initially closing during a statewide shutdown of bars and restaurants in March, Sharky’s opened May 1, while most other bars in Galveston remained closed to conform with coronavirus closure orders Abbott has issued over the past two months.
The Galveston Police Department and Galveston City Marshal’s office have told the bar to close on four occasions since May 1, according to city officials. The city has not fined the business or arrested anyone in connection with its opening but has reported the business to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
RESTRAINING ORDER SOUGHT
Landry sued the city Wednesday and accused officials, including Mayor Jim Yarbrough, of illegally attempting to close the bar. The lawsuit argues that Abbott’s orders don’t explicitly close bars and that the city’s actions actually violate the governor’s written orders.
The lawsuit sought damages and a restraining order against the city to keep it from closing the business.
A hearing about the restraining order was held Thursday in Galveston’s 212th Judicial District Court.
District Court Judge Patricia Grady didn’t issue a restraining order, although Woodfill and city officials gave differing explanations about what happened.
Woodfill said no restraining order was needed because city officials agreed it wouldn’t try to force the bar’s closure.
“I came down here to make sure they didn’t shut her down, and they’ve agreed not to shut her down,” Woodfill said. “They’re obviously taking the position she’s not breaking the law if they are not going to shut her down. So my client was open all night last night at full capacity.”
City Attorney Don Glywasky said the order was unnecessary because the executive order Sharky’s had challenged was superseded by new orders that went into effect Friday.
The city, however, said it would leave enforcement of the state’s rules to the state alcohol commission.
In a notice posted on the commission’s website, the agency warned bars and restaurants that don’t follow Abbott’s rules could lose their licenses for up to 60 days.
“TABC has the authority to suspend any license that poses an immediate threat or danger to public safety,” the agency said.