Nashville bar owner to fight mayor's mandate to close some bars, restaurants

Posted at 11:15 AM, Mar 16, 2020

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — At least one of the owners of several downtown bars plans to fight the approved recommendation to close bars in the area amid COVID-19 concerns.

The attorney for Steve Smith, the owner of Tootsies Orchid Lounge, Honky Tonk Central and other Nashville bars, says he will work to request a temporary order that would restrain the enforcement of the declaration made by the Metro Board of Health. . He believes there are constitutional implications when selectively picking out certain businesses.

"We are in it for the fight," Smith's attorney Bryan Lewis said. "We will continue business until a legal authority tells us we have to padlock our doors and shut down."

In a statement released prior to the emergency declaration, Smith said ab order from Nashville Mayor John Cooper was "unconstitutional," abd that he would keep his restaurants open unless an order is handed down by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee

Prior to the public health emergency declaration, Smith released the following statement:

"A Tootsie's patron as immediate as last night, mentioned having lived through the polio epidemic and didn't recall such extreme measures being handed down in history," Smith's statement read. "In response, Tootsies Orchid Lounge, Rippy's, Honky Tonk Central, Kid Rock's Big Ass Honky Tonk & Steakhouse and The Diner will continue to remain open to serve the public until such statewide mandate is issued from the Governor of Tennessee."

Lewis argued the push back wasn't because of profit but the well-being of their 800-plus employees and musicians playing on Lower Broadway.

"A lot of these individuals have car notes, have rent to pay, utility bills to pay, and to come in and indiscriminately shut our businesses down and shut off our revenue stream will cause a major hardship to all of these employees and musicians," Lewis said.

Lewis stressed that if employees are sick or feel uncomfortable going to work, the company will respect their decision. As long as an employee was legitimately sick or had a concern that they had symptoms, they will get paid.

Like many other businesses, there's been an effort to sanitize and wipe everything down as an extra precaution. Lewis said they are working to shut down certain dance floors to allow for social distancing.

However, there are businesses in support of the mandate for now. Ole Red, another Lower Broadway bar, temporarily suspended operations already hours after the mayor's announcement. Will Newman of Edley's Bar-B-Que and Pancho & Lefty's Cantina outside of Bridgestone Arena said he doesn't envy the position to make crucial decisions like this.

"We want to be a partner with local health officials to make sure we're doing whatever we can to limit the spread as quickly as possible," Newman said.

The night before, social distancing wasn't the case in many Nashville businesses, with videos being shared on social media of visitors standing shoulder-to-shoulder. It caught the disdain of many people, including singer Maren Morris.

"Broadway, you aren't a hero for staying open," she said in a tweet.

It's unclear when the closures will begin, but Cooper said there would be a notifying period.

This story was originally published by Matthew Torres on WTVF in Nashville.