SAN ANGELO, TX — The protest to keep bars in San Angelo open attracted a small gathering of about a dozen in front of a favorite downtown coffee shop at noon on Saturday.
Holding signs asking Texas Governor Abbott, “What do we do now” and “Do you think we are rich?” those gathered were owners, managers and workers at bars. The protest was organized by Stango’s Coffee Shop proprietor Steve Stango less than 24 hours earlier when Abbott ordered all bars, defined as venues that generate less than 51 percent of revenues on beer and mixed drink sales, close at noon Friday.
This is the second time this year bars have been ordered closed.
John Karcher, known affectionately as “‘Lil Dog” to bar patrons of his business, The Dead Horse Bar and Live Music Venue, said he was at a loss for words as to what to do next. He said he took advantage of the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP loan, but that money is now used up. The last time bars were ordered closed, March 20, led to a 45-day closure before a very limited re-opening in early May.
1933 Whiskey Bar owner Garrett Engle said the re-opening wasn’t as good for him or for his patrons, as most are in an older demographic who are at a heightened state of alarm over COVID-19. Toni Hunter from the House of FiFi DuBois considered the idea of going back to the venue’s original purpose — an antique furniture store.
“We haven’t sold antique furniture for over 12 years,” she said. She said she will probably take a pass on that idea. FiFi’s found success as a bar and will always be one, Hunter said.
Some bar owners said they thought of opening in the face of whatever suspension the TABC slaps on them as a last ditch option. One bar owner said their venue remained open Friday night and no one bothered them. They may do it again.
Universally, bar owners grimace at how restaurants with bars get a free pass when venues that are strictly bars are forced to close and go broke. During the first closure in March and April, once restaurants re-opened their dine-in areas, some restaurants took on the appearance of being a bar. A common example given was Fuzzy’s Taco Shop. Another is a new business that opened amid the COVID-19 restrictions. It is a bar and restaurant called Sports Next Level, 2838 College Hills Drive. It never had food or alcohol sales receipts prior to the COVID-19 response because it wasn’t open yet. Now it is open and, from all appearances, the new business is weathering the shutdown/slowdown with stride.
“If you walk in there, you see all of Blaine’s regulars sitting there and drinking,” someone said. That someone didn’t want to be identified, fearing reprisals. Blaine’s Pub is a popular downtown San Angelo bar that has been forced to close again. Blaine’s is not a restaurant.
Stango said he was pleased with the turnout for his protest he announced at the last minute.
“I hope we get the point across that these are businesses that have real people working for them and all of them need to be opened,” he said.
Stango said that if his coffee shop was ordered closed again that he will definitely not follow the order. “Lock me up. Put me in jail,” he said. His reasoning is because he believes the first shutdown at the end of March was not necessary to fight COVID-19.