SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — The Memphis bar scene will look much different after Wednesday night. Bars must close at midnight under the Shelby County Health Department’s latest health directive. But there are still questions about what constitutes a bar.
Since Tuesday’s announcement, FOX13 has spoken to several Memphis business owners left with more questions than answers, but one thing is for sure, Wednesday night is the last time Beale Street will be busy for a while.
Blues music pumped out of every juke joint onto Memphis’s iconic Beale Street. The bar district is traditionally a huge draw for tourists looking to experience the Memphis of old.
“This is our first time in Memphis, Tennessee,” said tourist Kayla Noel.
Beale Street is known for good times, but it seems too many good times were had after Shelby County entered Phase Two of the Back to Business plan. COVID-19 numbers keep climbing; the hospitalization rate is the worst it’s been since the beginning of the pandemic.
“We are going to close bars again,” Shelby County Health Director Alisa Haushalter announced Tuesday.
That starts at midnight Wednesday. Restaurants also have to close nightly by 10 p.m.
“Not having more time when you’re only operating at 50 percent capacity, it definitely impacts the financial opportunities that we have. That is early, and it hurts the ability to generate significant income, so hopefully, this will be temporary.” Silky O’Sullivans Owner Joellyn Sullivan.
Tuesday’s announcement caused confusion and concern from business owners. Many said it wasn’t clear what constitutes a bar.
According to the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission, a business is considered a bar if 50% or less of its revenue comes from food.
After pressing, the Health Department clarified that live music will be allowed as long as the facility can ensure each performer will maintain 18 feet between any other performer, employee or patron while singing.
“It’s not quite what we expected with all the shutdowns and everything,” said tourist Brandon Spencer.
For places like B.B. King’s on Beale Street, it’s likely 50% or more of their revenue comes from food, so they’d be allowed to stay open. As for places like Tap Room or Absinthe Bar – you can expect them to be closed at midnight.
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