Closure confusion? While some bars ordered to close, others on Beale Street are exempt

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Establishments listed as bars across Shelby County were ordered to close by midnight Thursday morning by the health department — but one of Memphis’ biggest and busiest drinking spots still looks to be open.

Beale Street bars are exempt from the closure requirement because of an exemption in licensing with the busy street. That raises questions about the difference in bars and restaurants, and there’s growing concern among bar owners and employees in Shelby County. 

Blind Bear Speakeasy, located downtown off Main Street, is one of the more than 40 places listed by the state as having a limited service license, meaning 50% or more of their sales come from alcohol. 

They’ve been ordered to close by the health department as part of the effort to curb the COVID-19 spread. 

But various establishments on Beale Street are not included on the list of those licenses from the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

“There is statutory language that exempts establishments located in the Beale Street Historic District from meeting any food sale percentages in order to obtain a full service restaurant license,” a representative with Tennessee ABC said in a statement. “The section is TCA 57-4-102(30)(C). (30) is the definition of ‘restaurant’, and (C) provides that establishments within a national historic landmark district (Beale Street Historic District, in this case), do not have to meet the food service requirements normally expected of a restaurant.”

When questioned about that code Thursday, the Health Department director said officials will explore the Beale Street issue again.

“Again, it has to do with their license, but we will do everything that we can to reduce transmission in on community, including on Beale Street,” Dr. Alisa Haushalter said.

For Jeannette Comans, owner of Blind Bear, closing comes with a list of stressors.

“Being closed down, not hearing an end date, not knowing how long it’s going to last. Knowing that we already got assistance, it’s been used I hired everybody back,” she said. “I was almost to the point where I had exactly the amount of people I needed.”

She says she went to extra lengths to try and keep her place safe, putting foot pulls on doors, giving out masks, requiring them if you’re not eating or sitting down, temperature checks and touchless menus.  

She also said that Blind Bear serves food and, during the pandemic, has been serving even more, with a full menu during the week and a brunch menu on Saturday and Sunday.

“All we ask is that we can run as a restaurant because that’s what we are. We serve food, we have a full menu,” Comans said.

It is possible for places classified as bars to re-apply for a full service license but their sales from last year will be analyzed.

The Health Department says they are prepared to enforce their directive for those who do not comply, saying for those who don’t it makes it more difficult for others.

“We do use data and we use science to make decisions and recommendations around policy and other public health interventions, and what we know nationwide is that, we have an increase in cases amongst people 25-45 and that transmission is occurring in social settings,” Haushalter said.

Below: A list of 45 Shelby County bars with “limited service licensing” according to Tennessee ABC

DBA/Business Name
ALCHEMY
Blind Bear
Brewskis Sports Bar & Grill
Brookhaven Pub & Grill
Cheers of Millington
CLASSIC HITZ
CLASSIC SOULZ
Clicks Billiards
Crosstown Arts
Dan Mcguinness Pub
Dru’s Place
Flying Saucer Draught Emporium
Fox & Hound
Hadley’s Pub
Hammer & Ale
Havana Mix Cigars
indulge lounge
knifebird
Love
MAX’S SPORTS BAR
Memphis Sports Pub
Mollie Fontaine Lounge
MURPHY’S
My Spot
NEWBY’S
Rec Room
ROBERT ALAN COLETTA SOLE MBR
RUMBA ROOM
SILLY GOOSE
Stage 64 Lounge
Statuz Bar & Grille
T.J. MULLIGAN’S- CORDOVA
Tavern 018
The Blue Monkey Midtown
The Bluff
The Flying Saucer
The Hi Tone Cafe
THE POCKET, LLC
The Pumping Station
TJ Mulligans
TJ Mulligans-HWY 64
TRUTH NIGHT BAR
Whiskey Dicks
WKND
Zebra Lounge

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