After one weekend, ALE pulls plug on pub

Published 6:03 pm Friday, June 5, 2020

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A Washington bar that reopened with limited capacity last week has closed its doors once again. According to Alcohol Law Enforcement Agent Rusty King, his office contacted Market Street Pub owner Connie Langley after someone tipped the agency off to the bar being opened, in violation of a state order keeping bars closed amidst COVID-19.

“ALE’s role throughout all of this is to seek voluntary compliance with the governor’s order,” King said. “The first step of it is to educate and call the business owner and let them know what they can and can’t do under the governor’s order.”

King said a number of bars in ALE District II, which includes 22 northeastern North Carolina counties, have tried to reopen in some capacity, but all complied on closing down after being contacted by his agency.

Langley said Wednesday that she was consulting with her attorney and preferred not to offer further comment for the time being.

King explained his agency’s enforcement is based on how each individual business is permitted to sell alcohol. For example, a bar falls into a different category than a restaurant, which in turn falls into a separate category from breweries and wineries.

“What it boils down to is what your business model is,” King said. “The breweries have been allowed to operate for retail sales. It’s just like at Walmart — they come in, make their purchases and then leave. The whole point of it is to keep people from staying in one place and loitering in large groups.”

According to clarification on the issue shared by the state, breweries may sell alcohol for off-site consumption or in a restaurant setting, if one is attached to the business. At both breweries and restaurants, “any customers consuming food or beverages on-premises must be in seated groups that are spaced at least six feet apart, and customers or guests will be limited to 50% fire capacity.”

“When a restaurant engages in bar-type activity, that’s when the issues arise,” King said. “(That) meaning that they’ve got live music, people gathering around and loitering, not restaurant-style activity.”

Beaufort County Health Director Jim Madson said while the health department works with businesses to ensure compliance with state regulations, their job is not enforcement.

“Usually when we find a business that’s outside of the guidelines from the state, we try to tell them that, but we’re not the enforcement end,” Madson said.

Similarly, Washington City Manager Jonathan Russell says the city has stepped back from enforcing those regulations on businesses. Langley approached the city last week to discuss options to reopen, including serving food. Preferring to take a neutral stance, Russell said the City directed Langley to the state Alcohol Beverage Control board and ALE.

“She was looking at some options to open, and we advised her that ABC would be the enforcing agency, not us,” Russell said. “We took the stance that, if they’re in our jurisdiction, we would not make the determining call on whether they were operational or not.”

Last week, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a bill that would allow bars to reopen legally with limited capacity. On Friday, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed that bill.