The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission on Wednesday clarified its guidelines after what the agency said was a misunderstanding about whether breweries could reopen their patios, a spokesperson told KXAN.
As a result, some local breweries—including St. Elmo in South Austin—shut down their patios for a second time after a brief period of reopening.
The clarification arrived less than a week after the TABC announced certain retailers could allow outdoor seating, which some local breweries took to include them. The TABC spokesperson told KXAN that the rule change only included those that make less than 51% of their revenue from alcohol sales.
The Texas Craft Brewers Guild tweeted on Thursday that the decision is "just the latest lack of leadership" from the TABC and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
This is just the latest lack of leadership. Two out of every three Texas craft breweries stand to permanently close… https://t.co/ej88uJtFib— Texas Craft Brewers Guild (@Texas Craft Brewers Guild) 1595514962.0
A survey conducted by the guild earlier this month found that one-third of Texas craft breweries believe they will have to close permanently in the next few months if shutdown orders do not change. Another third believe they won't last until the end of the year given the current conditions.
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A spokesman for the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission said Wednesday evening that establishments that have permanent kitchen facilities but make more revenue off alcohol than food may not be open for dine-in service, but are allowed to offer to-go alcohol with food orders.
A story posted in this spot earlier quoted Chris Porter, PIO for the TABC, as saying that these businesses—which included hundreds of eateries across Texas, including many in Austin—were supposed to be closed alongside bars that were shuttered by Gov. Greg Abbott's Friday order.
In our original story, Porter said executive orders throughout the pandemic "have defined bars as businesses, regardless of food preparation, which generate more than 51% from alcohol sales. With this latest executive order, those locations are required to remain closed."
Shortly after the story was posted, Porter retracted his statement in an email to Austonia, saying he "mistakenly gave you the wrong information."
He confirmed in his Wednesday evening email that dining establishments with food service that make 51% or more of their revenue off alcohol are still considered bars and must close their dining areas, he said, but may remain open on a to-go only basis.
"Bars which have a permanent kitchen facility cannot allow customers for dine-in service, but may offer alcohol to-go with food orders," Porter said in an email to Austonia late Wednesday.
Abbott's order closed bars but allowed mixed drinks to be sold with to-go food orders from restaurants for the first time in modern Texas history.
A press statement released by the Abbott's office on Friday states that "bars and similar establishments that receive more than 51% of their gross receipts from the sale of alcoholic beverages are required to close at 12:00 PM today," but that, "these businesses may remain open for delivery and take-out, including for alcoholic beverages, as authorized by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission."
On Saturday, the day after the order, the TABC released guidelines covering the new alcohol-to-go allowances.
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As Texas navigates reopening restaurants and bars safely, al fresco spots provide the perfect place for long-quarantined Austin residents. Some of these favorites are open only on the patio, others are allowing customers to eat to-go orders in the space, and a few are full service—the details are subject to change. This is not an all-inclusive list, but here they are, in no particular order:
Upscale seafood fare is served under striped umbrellas on the tree-lined porch, with dogs allowed and an unfettered view of South Congress foot traffic.
Address: 1400 S. Congress Ave.
Serving craft cocktails with names like Riki Tiki Tavi and Lucid Dreams, Whisler's is a favorite on the city's East Side and is currently only open Thursday-Sunday for patio service.
Address: 1816 E. 6th St. (Photo: Whisler's)(Whisler's)
3. 77 Degrees
Exotic cocktails and tasty small plates are only a small part of the draw for this rooftop oasis in the Rock Rose section of the Domain, offering cushy seating, fans with misters and views of the action below.
Address: 11500 Rock Rose Ave. (Photo: Charlie L. Harper II)(Charlie L. Harper III)
4. Iron Cactus
Serving 100 tequilas in a turn-of-the-century building, this Mexican food restaurant's gorgeous and popular rooftop overlooks on historic Sixth Street.
Address: 606 Trinity St. (Photo: Iron Cactus)
This charming Greek eatery on South Lamar sports a relaxing front courtyard covered in shade trees and drenched in an Austin-hippie-meets-Mediterranean-village vibe.
Address: 2050 S. Lamar Blvd. (Photo: Charlie L. Harper II)(Charlie L. Harper III)
A converted house with porch and yard on the city's East Side serves interior Mexican cuisine in a setting that kind of resembles a chilled-out house party in Mexico City.
Address: 1306 E. 6th S. (Photo: Licha's Cantina)
Beer, wine, coffee and cafe food meet a distinctly local vibe in the laid-back courtyard, a neighborhood favorite just east of I-35.
Address: 1400 E 38th 1/2 St. (Photo: Charlie L. Harper II)(Charlie L. Harper III)
8. Posse East
Drink a beer, grab a burger and watch your favorite sports from a safe distance on the patio in this university-adjacent sports bar, a local favorite for nearly 50 years.
Address: 2900 Duval St. (Photo: Posse East)(Posse East)
One of Austin's food-truck-turned-restaurant success stories, this little haven on the East Side serves some of the city's most popular Turkish fast food - wraps and falafel shots and local beer.
Address: 1311 E. 7th St. (Photo: Charlie L. Harper II)(Charlie L. Harper III)
10. G'raj Mahal
Another food-truck success story, this Indian food joint has been a staple on Rainey Street for more than a decade and boasts a patio in the shade surrounded by decorative bicycle wheels and great people watching.
Address: 73 Rainey St. (Photo: Charlie L. Harper II)(Charlie L. Harper III)
Sit on the covered front porch with your buddies and your pups at this South Lamar favorite, with a full bar and menu that includes one of the best Chicago dogs in the city.
Address: 2108 S. Lamar Blvd. (Photo: Black Sheep Lodge)
This iconic South Congress restaurant and beer garden serves interior Mexican fare and boasts a full bar, house-made tortillas and excellent SoCo vibe. Its small front porch and the Oak Garden next door are both open.
Address: 1412 S. Congress (Photo: Guero's)
13. Culinary Dropout
This hip spot on the edge of the Domain's North Side plaza offers a spacious covered patio lined with white leather benches and tables with plenty of room between them, serving food and drinks in a casual but cosmopolitan setting.
Address: 11721 Rock Rose Ave. (Photo: Charlie L. Harper III)(Charlie L. Harper III)
This iconic three-level club downtown sports many cool indoor spots, but it made this list for its stellar rooftop, with cush seating, shade and views of the skyline.
Address: 412 Congress Ave. D (Photo: Speakeasy)(Speakeasy)
15. Jo's Coffee
A SoCo staple for decades, the window service and covered patio and sunnier street-side seating give a funky summer-camp-cantina feel to one of the city's trendiest urban neighborhoods. Don't forget the photo op with the iconic "I Love You So Much" message painted in red on its green north-facing wall.
Address: 1300 S. Congress Ave. (Photo: Jo's Coffee)
If you're dying for a date night and looking for a romantic outdoor space, this dreamy Italian eatery in the hills of Northwest Austin boasts beautiful views and elegant fare on its comfortable patio.
Address: 6203 N. Capital of Texas Hwy. (Photo: Siena Ristorante)(Siena Ristorante)
17. Hula Hut
A longtime Lake Austin favorite just west of downtown, the Hula Hut (and its neighbors along the lakefront) beckons with a decidedly summer vibe; the pina coladas and coconut shrimp are a bonus.
Address: 3825 Lake Austin Blvd. (Photo: Hula Hut)(Hula Hut)
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Uchi group CEO sees ‘a vibrant restaurant community on the other side’ of pandemic, ‘but it's going to be a battle for everybody’
If someone had asked Tony Montero two months ago if his restaurant group's award-winning upscale eatery, Uchi Austin, would be serving its sushi dishes to go, he would have said no.
"That's not really us," said Montero, chief executive officer of Hai Hospitality, which operates Uchi restaurants in Austin, Houston, Dallas and Denver.
But Uchi—like nearly 4,000 other restaurants in Austin—has had to adapt its epicurean identity after closing in-house dining to suppress the spread of coronavirus.
Suddenly, the artistry and elegance that helped define owner/chef Tyson Cole's Uchi, which opened in 2003 and has received national acclaim for its cuisine and presentation, was being served up in to-go containers in the parking lot.
It was a 180-degree turn, surprising in its appeal to fine-dining customers, and particularly for Montero, whose job it is to maintain brand identity as well as experiential quality in the Hai group of seven restaurants.
But, as Montero said, "the word of the year now is 'pivot.'"
"We're seeing comments from guests … raving about having this private, intimate Uchi experience in their home, which has been amazing to see," Montero said.
In addition to the Uchi restaurants, Hai also operates Loro, a more casual Asian smokehouse, as well as Uchiko in Austin and Uchiba in Dallas. Plans to open a Dallas Loro this October are delayed, but still on, he said.Those that didn't serve to-go before will continue even after the crisis passes, he said.
It's among many changes afoot for the Hai restaurants in this pandemic-era restaurant culture.
Uchi's menu is now defined by what's available from Texas and the East and West coasts, after restrictions and supply issues shut down daily fish shipments, such as their black snapper, from Japan in March, Montero said.
"I'd never designed a restaurant that was trying to put in less seating," he said.
The Uchi restaurants and Loro secured funding through the Paycheck Protection Program, kept much of the staff on full time, and kept all employees on health insurance, Montero said.
The company is "doing fine," he said, "for now."
"But it's going to be a battle for everybody," he said, particularly with projections that most people won't dine out in the first few months out of health-related and economic concerns.
"It has been incredibly sad to see great places, and someone's life work, suddenly close," he said.
Predictions by some experts that 20% of restaurants may close are worrying, Montero said, but the dining-out culture won't die.
"There's going to be a vibrant restaurant community on the other side," he said.
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