Drink Texas Bar is located at 200 Navarro St.
Drink Texas Bar is located at 200 Navarro St. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Nearly seven months to the day when watering holes across the state were first closed to control the spread of coronavirus, establishments in the eight counties surrounding San Antonio are opening Wednesday. And Bexar County will soon join them.

Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott issued a statewide allowing officials in Texas’ 254 counties to determine whether bars in their jurisdiction could reopen starting Oct. 14 at 50 percent of posted indoor capacity. There is no limit for outdoor capacity.

Under the order, counties with less than 15 percent of hospital capacity taken up by COVID-19 patients are eligible. The county judge is required to file a form with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) to reopen bars in the region. 

Wolff, however, said at a press briefing on Oct. 7 that he wanted to see more data before deciding whether the county ultimately opts in. Dallas, Harris, and Travis counties also opted not to allow bars to reopen.

But on Wednesday, the county judge announced that he will sign an order the following day allowing bars to open sometime next week.

It was welcome news to Jody Bailey Newman owner of The Friendly Spot in Southtown, and a vocal advocate for local bar owners, who said allowing the bars to open is the only way for them to survive. “These small independents deserve a chance,” Newman said following the briefing.

Gov. Abbott shut down dine-in service at restaurants and bars on March 19, then reopened them in May. But as cases surged in June, he ordered restaurants to scale back to 50 percent capacity and closed bars completely. 

Texas defines bars as all facilities where alcohol makes up more than 51 percent of sales. In July, many bar owners, looking to keep their doors open, set out to become restaurants by building kitchens and inviting food trucks onto the premises in order to boost food sales.

Of the 3,000 bars in Bexar County, only 425 had not yet reopened by reclassifying as a restaurant, Wolff said on Wednesday.

The bar Drink Texas which has locations in downtown San Antonio and in Boerne, the seat of Kendall County, reopened last Saturday after obtaining a license to serve food, said manager Karina Lizeth. Some of their customers returned.

“Not a lot of people knew that we were open, so, throughout the week, we were getting a lot of calls,” Lizeth said. “But now that the governor … said that they can open, I’m really thinking that it’s going to be busier. I don’t know, though – a lot of people don’t want to go out.”

Since June, a total of more than 2,200 Texas bars have reclassified as restaurants, said a TABC spokesman. Bars that could not incorporate food into their menus, however, have remained closed to patrons. 

In September, when Gov. Abbott left bars out of a reopening plan, the Texas Bar and Nightclub Alliance cried foul, with its president Michael Klein stating, “It is absolutely ridiculous that a bar that serves ‘enough’ food is now allowed to open to 75% capacity, but regular neighborhood bars without the means to obtain new government permits or offer food items cannot open their doors at all.”

For bars that reopen, a checklist of health protocols from Texas Health and Human Services states that bars must stop serving alcohol at 11 p.m., and all employees and customers are required to wear face coverings when feasible. 

In Bexar County, bars will be required to comply with eight safety recommendations, involving things such as crowds congregating and air ventilation. “And the way we’re approaching it, it would be a mandatory requirement, not a recommendation, and one that would be enforced,” Wolff said. Click below to read more on the additional health measures.

Bar doors were swinging open Wednesday in each of the eight surrounding counties. A map of all Texas counties with bars reopening is posted on the TABC website.

Here’s more information about each of the counties nearest to San Antonio.

Bandera County

Bars can reopen in Bandera County on Wednesday. The county currently has two active cases of COVID-19, per data from the Texas Department of State Health Services dashboard.

Face masks are not required in Bandera County per statewide orders. But some property owners require face masks, according to an emergency management official. Most of the county’s bars are located in the city of Bandera, the county seat and the only incorporated city in the county. 

Kendall County

Bars can reopen Wednesday in Kendall County, which currently has no active cases of the virus. Situated to the northwest of Bexar County, Kendall’s county seat, where there are numerous bars and restaurants, is a 32-mile drive from downtown San Antonio.

Comal County

Bars can reopen in Comal County but are required to complete an Open Safe Plan document, which states that dance floors are to remain closed. The Department of State Health Services is reporting no active cases of the virus in Comal County. New Braunfels, home of the annual celebration Wurstfest that was canceled in July, is the county seat.

Guadalupe County

Guadalupe County, which lies to the northeast of Bexar, is allowing bars to reopen with approval from the county officials. With the city of Seguin as its county seat, the county has 320 active cases, according to the Department of State Health Services. 

Wilson County

Bars can reopen Wednesday in the mostly rural Wilson County, an area situated to the southeast of Bexar County and home to Floresville. There are 50 active cases in the county. 

Atascosa County

In the sizable county directly to the south of Bexar County, bars can reopen Wednesday. There are 60 active cases in the county, which has the city of Jourdanton as its seat.

Medina County

Hondo-based County Judge Chris Schuchart is allowing bars to reopen Wednesday in Medina County, which is situated directly west of Bexar County and currently has 60 active cases.

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.