With Texas' mask mandate ending and Gov. Greg Abbott giving businesses the go-ahead to open at full capacity on Wednesday, some bars couldn't be happier about their newfound freedom to open like its 2019.
Bars, like many other businesses, took a huge hit as they were forced to close and then only opened as restaurants a few months ago. While many are opting for safety despite the lifting of the mask mandate, those that have been skirting pandemic rules since the beginning of the pandemic are proud to say they are opening in pre-covid style.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Icehouse, 701 W. 6th St., did not answer several calls from Austonia, but took to Facebook and Instagram to celebrate that "Texas is open" after Abbott announced that bars no longer had to follow restrictions.
Back in June, the bar was one of a few that had its alcohol permit suspended by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission for violating social distancing rules.
Similarly, UnBARlievable on West 6th Street, the self-proclaimed "greatest drinkery on Earth," had its permit suspended at the same time as Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Icehouse but is taking a unique route in regards to the new order.
Brandon Cash, owner of UnBARlievable, The Rooftop on 6th, The Aquarium on 6th and The Goodnight posted to his personal Instagram story that UnBARlievable would be "masks off" and "100% open" come March 10.
Cash has been making a splash in the Austin bar scene for a while, not just for his disdain for COVID-19 safety precautions but he has also been called out multiple times for racism and sexism over the years.Anti-Brandon Cash blog, shutdownbrandoncash.com, said he posted on Facebook after Unbarlievable had its alcohol license suspended earlier this year. Cash has repeatedly refused to apologize for the comments he has made on social media.
UnBARlievable did not answer multiple attempts to call the establishment during business hours.
Elgin bar Liberty Tree Tavern, 117 N. Main Street, also celebrated the news on Facebook, saying it was "bout damn time" that the state opened up. The bar garnered national attention back in May 2020 for not allowing masks to be worn inside the establishment.
The bar encouraged patrons not to come to the bar if they were concerned for their safety.
According to a poll done by KXAN, a fifth of Austinites said they will stop wearing masks altogether tomorrow, whereas a poll done by Eater Austin showed that 38% of Austinites said they would only dine at restaurants and bars that don't require masks.
While a huge majority of Austin bars are planning to keep safety precautions, some are taking a middle ground. Open-air music venue Cedar Street Courtyard, located at 208 W. 4th St., told Austonia they will still encourage wearing masks and social distancing but they will not require it. Additionally, they will allow people to roam the venue and hit the dance floor.
Of the 22 bars that answered calls from Austonia, 21 confirmed they would continue to enforce restrictions as normal. View some of them here.
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Austin's Delta 8 industry has been turned on its head after Texas health officials clarified that the cannabinoid is on the state list of illegal substances, though it was previously believed to be legal by most retailers, consumers and manufacturers.
House Bill 1325, which was signed in June 2019 by Gov. Greg Abbott, and the Farm Bill, signed into law by former President Donald Trump in 2018, legalized any hemp product containing less than .3% THC. The same bills were thought to have made Delta 8 legal, though the Texas Department of State Health Services added a notice on its website saying it was still a controlled substance as of Friday, Oct. 15.
Both the federal and state governments keep separate lists on what is considered a controlled substance. Marijuana is considered Schedule I, a category reserved for substances with "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," both statewide and federally.
Austin-based CBD retailer Grassroots Harvest CEO Kemal Whyte, like many CBD shop retailers, was blindsided by the announcement. Many small businesses rely on Delta 8 for their sales—Green Herbal Care CBD said about 90% of its sales come from Delta 8—and Whyte said he is frustrated by the inconsistencies in the drug scheduling system.
Since 87% of Texans support the legalization of marijuana, at least for medical use, per a recent poll, Whyte said he wonders who this legislation is for.
"It's gonna have a massive impact on small businesses—there's just no way around it," Whyte said. "The reality is, we don't want to push out anything bad for our customers, we want this to benefit our customers and to help them. If we can make money while doing it, that's the American dream. What are we doing, whose benefit is this for?"
Delta 8 surged in popularity after the perceived legalization—consumers enjoyed its lower psychotropic potency, decreased anxiety while using it and the peace of mind as a legal way to get high. So in order to protect their products and livelihoods, both Grassroots Harvest and Austin-based manufacturer Hometown Heroes are taking legal action.
Whyte said Grassroots Harvest is suing DSHS, saying their action is creating negative effects in the market. Meanwhile, a Hometown Heroes spokesperson said the company is in the process of filing a temporary restraining order that would pause the ban on Delta-8 in the state of Texas.
Threats against Delta 8 are not new—DSHS lost a lawsuit trying to make "smokable hemp products" illegal last year and Texas lawmakers had been considering a bill that would make Delta 8 illegal, though it was dropped after the clarification was made.
Hometown Heroes released a formal statement in response to the DSHS rule.
"I need to be clear—we love Texas, we're just choosing to fight for the will of the people in regards to cannabis in Texas," Hometown Hero CEO Lukas Gilkey said in a statement. "(Texas DSHS) are using backhanded ways to create legislation and go against the will of the people."
Whyte laments the fact that it would be easier legally to "open up a strip club that also sells guns," and said he can't post customer testimonials that mention the benefits of Delta 8 without getting hit with a cease and desist from the Food and Drug Administration. Whyte said he isn't opposed to regulation—far from it—he just wants to see it go through the correct channels.
"The fact that they're stunting our ability to communicate with our clients that want to learn about this, you're preventing us from communicating with them and teaching them, or spreading information that we know," Whyte said. "I think that that in and of itself opens up a lot of questions."
Grassroots Harvest still has Delta 8 products on its shelves for the time being but for how long, Whyte doesn't know.
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Austin Public Health and other clinics around Austin are now providing booster shots for all three vaccines, including Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, to fully vaccinated individuals after both Pfizer and J & J were approved by the CDC on Wednesday.
APH and Austin clinics, which were already administering the approved Pfizer booster, will begin distributing shots as soon as Friday.
Those who received the second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine more than six months ago are elligble to receive a booster if they are over 65 or if they are over 18 and:
- Live in a long-term care environment
- Have underlying medical conditions
- Work or live in high-risk settings, such as schools, hospitals or correctional facilities
Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said in a media Q&A Friday that APH is encouraging boosters just as much as they have urged residents to get their first and second doses.
"Boosters are incredibly important to keeping our community protected and hospitalizations low," Walkes said. "If we can stay on top of our vaccinations, we provide protections for our most vulnerable and make it that much harder for COVID to spread in our community."
Eligible residents are free to choose the same booster as their first doses or "mix and match," per the CDC announcement.
Those looking for another dose can simply bring their vaccination card to APH centers or the dozens of Walgreens and CVS locations in the metro, which began administering doses Friday.
Additional updated guidance from the CDC allows for all eligible individuals to choose which vaccine they receive as a "mix-and-match" booster dose. It is advised to remember to bring your CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Card showing the original doses with you when going for booster shots.
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