The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission approved Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales' request to opt in to Gov. Greg Abbott's order allowing bars to open at 50-percent capacity.
The approval means bars were allowed to open Thursday, Oct. 15.
In order to be compliant with TABC regulations, bar owners and managers must adhere to Texas Department of Health Services, CDC and social-distancing guidelines.
In a virtual press conference, Canales said she doesn't expect that every bar will be perfect, but warned that the guidelines will be enforced.
"There will be harsh consequences for those who decide they do not want to adhere to the protocols the governor has given to us," Canales said. "For those that want to do it right, we hope and pray that this will give them an opportunity to get business, their business jumpstarted once again."
A statement from Canales' office Thursday states bars choosing to open don't need pre-approval, but do need to meet all of the specified requirements at the time of opening.
Protocols for opening a bar under the revised rules are strict and include requirements for social distancing, adding physical barriers and customer seating.
"By adhering to the operating guides, bar owners who choose to re-open can open their businesses with confidence and patrons going to any open bar in Nueces County knows that the state health protocols have been met and they can go to that bar safely," Canales said in Thursday's statement.
As the owner of the Hi-Ho Drive Inn Bar, Jerry Dalton describes the reopening experience as a roller coaster that is riddled with miscommunication.
"A lot of misleading information," Dalton said. "It’s been a struggle. Can we open, yes, no — we were actually open for one hour yesterday thinking it was okay — and then we closed it right down."
While several bars have made the transition to obtain a food and beverage permit and reclassify themselves as restaurants, Dalton has refused to do the same.
"I didn’t want to change the aura of the place and it’s just who we are, we’re just not part of a food establishment, we’re just a bar, you know — beer and wine," he said. "It’s not only the permit cost, it’s reconfiguring your whole establishment to abide by the health and safety and — it’s just something I feel I didn’t have to do — I shouldn’t have to do. As a citizen, I shouldn’t have to do that."
Gesturing toward his many sanitizing stations and spaced-out tables, Dalton said his business will be closely following the set guidelines.
"We got to be a little bit more strict, I think we’re more of a target they’re going to be checking on us more because of the fear of the socializing spreads more opposed to a restaurant," he said. "We know they’re very strict, so we know we’ll be checked on again and hopefully we’ll be OK."
Although Dalton said he may consider obtaining a food and beverage license if they experience another closure, he said that's not even on his radar at the moment. He's just happy to see some familiar faces back at his bar.
"We have loyal customers, they’ve been here for 50 years, second, third generations," Dalton said. "We enjoy their company and hopefully it can last."