The neon sign above the doors of The Angry Elephant reads, “Like your politics, Love your bar,” with a picture of an elephant flexing a bicep just below it greeting patrons of the Northside bar.

Located just off U.S. Highway 281 at Redland Road, the bar is tucked into a strip mall between the Roo Pub and Ginza Ramen and Poke.

It’s Wednesday night, and a bouncer dressed in black stands at the entry gate. His matching black mask covers his nose and bearded chin as he checks IDs.

Clad in glittering brown cowgirl boots, a young woman walks up to him, searching through her white handbag for a mask to put on before handing the bouncer her ID. 

As she is about to place the mask on her face, the bouncer says something, gesturing to it. She nods, walking past him and tucking the mask back into her purse.

About a dozen other customers are sitting throughout the small bar, most of them not wearing masks. Members of the staff, however, still don masks as they move around among the patrons.

“We let the customers decide for themselves,” the bouncer said. He added that employees have been asked to wear their masks while on the clock.

With some local bars leaving the choice to wear a mask up to customers following Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to lift the statewide mask mandate, many are choosing to go maskless. 

Masks are no longer required at Texas businesses as of Wednesday, March 10, and establishments such as bars and restaurants can now operate at full capacity. Some applauded the governor’s decision, while others, including Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, said they strongly disagree with it. 

The decision to lift the state’s mask mandate came as case numbers across the state steadily decline, with health officials worrying that pulling back on masks now could reverse that trend. 

With demand for vaccines still greatly outweighing supply, Wolff criticized the governor’s decision as premature. 

“He stripped away every possible thing you could do,” Wolff said shortly following the governor’s announcement.

San Antonio barhoppers Wednesday night agreed with the decision to leave whether or not to wear a mask up to the individual. 

“If you want to wear one, you definitely still should. But people who don’t want to wear one, like, that’s their choice,” said Igor Pelts, 32. Standing outside The Angry Elephant chatting with friends, Pelts said he lives around the corner from the GOP-themed bar and stops by once or twice a month. 

Pelts’ friend Charles Baker, 30, had similar feelings. 

“A lot of people want to go out without masks but don’t want to risk it,” Baker said. “It’s a cost-benefit analysis everyone has to do in their head.”

Neither Pelts nor Baker have masks on as they talk to a third friend outside, though Baker has one in his hand. The two said they both had COVID-19 in November, speculating that they picked it up at a different San Antonio bar. 

“I didn’t lose my sense of taste or smell or anything like that, didn’t have a cough, just the body aches,” Pelts said. “When we do have to wear masks somewhere I don’t mind it. We’ve gotten used to it, I guess.”

Roo Pub and Angry Elephant owner John Ingram did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday regarding the decision to make masks optional at both establishments.

Down at The Well, a country-themed college bar near the University of Texas at San Antonio, employees and guests will still be required to wear a mask, said owner Lauren Stanley. Stanley said since Abbott’s announcement, business has definitely picked up a bit more. 

“We’re still doing limited seating inside, but our outdoor area will be fully open now,” Stanley said. “We still have precautions in place. We don’t want people to disregard we are in the middle of a pandemic still.”

Patrons are distanced at The Well, a popular bar near UTSA that attracts students from the area. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Inside The Well Wednesday night, sisters Aleika and Bertha Aguilar are sitting with a small group of friends drinking and laughing. Two of the five women in the group have masks on, the others wear theirs under their chin or hanging off one ear.

“We still think people should wear their masks,” Bertha Aguilar said. “We’ve been going out since the pandemic started but just have been wearing masks.”

Aleika agrees. 

“Wear your mask!” she yells over the music. 

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report. A native San Antonian, she graduated from Texas A&M University in 2016 with a degree in telecommunication media...