Frustration mounts as bars shut down for COVID-19 violations, jeopardizing others who follow the rules

Texas

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — A crackdown on businesses not playing by the COVID-19 safety rules has some El Paso bar owners frustrated, including one who faces a two-month liquor license suspension.

Frank Ricci, the owner of Rockin’ Cigar Bar & Grill in the Cincinnati Entertainment District, said his liquor license was suspended for 60 days by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission for violating COVID-19 compliance rules.

He admits his bar made some mistakes. “It turned into pre-COVID Rockin’ Cigar Bar,” Ricci said of his bar.

As KTSM previously reported, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott shut bars down statewide on June 26 after virus cases surged.

As a way around that order, the TABC allowed bars to file for a license which would allow them to operate as a restaurant, as long as they followed the guidance.

Rockin’ Cigar Bar was one of those bars that obtained that license allowing them to open.

This recent suspension is the third time Rockin’ Cigar Bar had to close down since March.

“I take full responsibility for what happened. I had two things that were my mistake which were, number one, having the wrong security detail and number two, having a DJ,” Ricci said.

He tells KTSM when he was either at home or at his other bar locations, security would allow too many people inside, violating the capacity limit.

“This is new for everybody, 60 days is quite a lot for somebody to be slapped for something, we didn’t kill anybody, nobody got hurt,” Ricci said.

Since his bar is suspended, he cannot operate the business for the full 60 days, including curbside orders.

Other rules include social distancing, tables must be 6 feet apart, mandatory masks and alcohol must be served with food.

“It’s better than nothing and the other side to it is you have to deal with the rules and the occupancies,” Anthony Duncan, the owner of Border City Ale House said.

The TABC suspended seven local liquor licenses. Other bar owners fear those violating the rules will ultimately delay the governor from reopening bars.

“It’s frustrating because then you realize that they’re doing things that can jeopardize us from being able to open at full capacities,” Duncan said.

Ricci said he’s frustrated with how Abbott handled bars throughout the pandemic.

“We’re getting mixed messages from the governor, he says shut the bars down but now you can put a taco truck out in front and call it a bar and grill,” Ricci said.

He said since many bars are trying to relicense as restaurants, those few who are open while garner more foot traffic than if all bars were allowed to open at a limited capacity.

“When we’re open and nobody else is, everyone is coming here,” Ricci said.

Ricci said he has 45 days left in his suspension, but when he reopens, he’ll limit capacity to only 40 percent rather than the 50 percent they’re allowed.

“We will definitely cool our jets compared to what Cincinnati is used to,” Ricci said.

He shares a message to other El Paso bars:

“I’m hoping they learn from our mistakes and they can go forward and be successful and at least be able to pay their bils and stay afloat during this time,” Ricci said.

El Paso City Council discussed increasing enforcement such as including unmarked vehicles for the compliance team to use during their inspections.

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