Some Bars in Houston Are Reopening by Using New Strategies to Comply with the Law
In Texas, a law called the “51% rule” requires a business that generates 51% or more of its revenue from alcohol be classified as a bar, not a restaurant. Currently, Texas establishments that are legally considered bars are required to close due to Governor Greg Abbott’s attempts to bring down the high number of new COVID-19 cases. However, there are plenty of bars with full food programs or that are adjacent to a restaurant owned by the same owner. Some of these proprietors are taking a close look at their food sales to see if alcohol is indeed 51% or more of revenue. If not, there’s a potential to be reclassified as a restaurant and reopen at 50% capacity. At least, two Houston bars in the Montrose neighborhood have done just that and have reopened under two different strategies.
Camerata at Paulie’s, 1830 Westheimer: Until this week, Camerata has been staying in business by relying only on retail wine sales. However, owner Paul Petronella did some research and confirmed that he could legally reopen Camerata to in-person service. Here’s why: Camerata is next door to his longstanding Italian restaurant, Paulie’s and both businesses operate under the same company — Petronella’s Inc. — which also holds the TABC license that covers both operations. “Our total alcohol sales under our Beer/Wine Retail license averages 33% per year, never exceeding 40% in any month. (Trust me, I wish it were closer to 50%),” he wrote in an email. He adds, “‘Camerata’ translates to ‘room’ or ‘chamber’ as it has always been our wine room at Paulie’s.”
Now that Camerata is reopened, masks are required for staff and for guests when “entering, exiting and walking about the bar”, which is mandated by the state. Patrons who happen to show up without a mask may request one from a staff member. In addition, seating will be limited and socially distanced. The hours are from 2 to 11 p.m. daily. Camerata will also continue to deliver retail purchases of $50 or more for free within the 610 Loop, and online ordering is available.
La Grange, 2517 Ralph: According to a representative, the owners of La Grange were able to re-permit their business as a restaurant instead of a bar, which means it can reopen. As is the requirement for all restaurants, it’s operating with only 50% guest occupancy and the owners are encouraging guests to bring masks. La Grange is also hosting live music events twice a week. Guests may want to call ahead to find out what is planned for the evening. The hours are Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4 to 9 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 4 to 11 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. La Grange is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. The current menu (slightly abbreviated for these times of COVID) is available online and to-go orders are also available.
Phaedra Cook has written about Houston’s restaurant and bar scene since 2010. She was a regular contributor to My Table magazine (now closed) and was the lead restaurant critic for the Houston Press for two years, eventually being promoted to food editor. Cook founded Houston Food Finder in November 2016 and has been its editor and publisher ever since.