In a press release this morning, the newly formed North Carolina Bar and Tavern Association announced that it would file a lawsuit against Governor Cooper, arguing that “bars deserve the same treatment under the law as restaurants, breweries, wineries, and distilleries and other businesses which have been permitted to reopen.”
Cooper’s Executive Order 141—putting into place phase 2 of reopening the state from the COVID lockdown—allowed restaurants, breweries, wineries, and distilleries to open at half-capacity. Bars, however, were singled out and forced to remain closed. Many bar owners found out they’d been left behind the day before after spending the previous week preparing to reopen.
“It makes no sense to say it’s safe to have a drink in a distillery or a beer in a brewery, neither of which serve food, but it’s somehow unsafe to enjoy that same cocktail or beer in a bar,” Zack Medford, a co-owner of Raleigh’s Isaac Hunter’s Hospitality and president of the North Carolina Bar and Tavern Association, said in the release. “We aren’t asking for special treatment—we are asking to enjoy our constitutional right to enjoy the fruits of our labor and for equal treatment. We want to get back to work just like everyone else.”
The lawsuit isn’t a surprise, nor are bar owners the only businesses petitioning the courts to reopen. Gym owners filed a lawsuit yesterday. Earlier this month, while the state was in phase 1, churches successfully sued the state to overturn a provision forbidding them from holding indoor services of more than 10 people.
Medford says the lawsuit will be filed tomorrow, and his group has hired attorney Mike Tadych—who often represents media organizations in First Amendment disputes—to represent it. (“I come from a family of lawyers and press,” Medford told the INDY in a text message this morning. “Might as well use the press’s lawyer.”)
There is legislation in the Senate that would force the state to let bars open during phase 2.
UPDATE: This morning, in a 42–5 vote, the Senate passed an updated version of the bill, which *allows bars and restaurants to open at full capacity and makes it easier to have outdoor seating as well.
Contact editor in chief Jeffrey C. Billman at email@example.com. Correction: This story originally said the bill limited capacity to 50 percent or 100 people; rather, it limits outdoor capacity to 50 percent of indoor capacity or 100 people.
DEAR READERS, WE NEED YOUR HELP NOW MORE THAN EVER. Support independent local journalism by joining the INDY Press Club today. Your contributions will keep our fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle, coronavirus be damned.