Nashville’s honky-tonks are ignoring calls for “social distancing,” even after the Metro health board voted Sunday to shut them down. The city is trying to force bars on Lower Broadway to close after they were packed over the weekend.
“The intent is to assure that we have what has been called social distance, but I’d like to call it physical distance because we need to maintain the social fabric the best we can,” newly appointed health director Michael Caldwell said during the specially called meeting.
The city’s board of health voted to declare a public health emergency in light of the ever-growing coronavirus pandemic. That gives Caldwell broad authority to even decide what qualifies as a restaurant and what qualifies as a bar (generally, 50% of revenue must come from food to be a restaurant).
“I believe this particular declaration would suffice in order for me to act in whatever way I would need to act to protect the public,” he said.
The city is trying to close bars not just in tourist areas but across Davidson County. Restaurants will also be restricted to filling only half their tables to put distance between patrons.
The unprecedented action has the support of the wider business community, such as the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Convention and Visitors Corporation. But the owners of the largest honky-tonks in town say they won’t close until the state makes them, arguing that the city is overreacting.
“A Tootsies patron as immediate as last night mentioned having lived through the polio epidemic and didn’t recall such extreme measures being handed down,” owner Steve Smith said in a statement. “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.”
Nashville’s mayor and health director were asked how they would handle non-compliance. They’re working with police to figure out the best way to address enforcement.