Agents with the N.C. Alcohol Law Enforcement visited a number of privately-owned bars Wednesday in Winston-Salem, informing their operators that the businesses must close under a pandemic-related executive order from Gov. Roy Cooper, two bar owners said.
Cooper's order extending restrictions on late-night service of alcoholic beverages went into effect at 11 p.m. on Aug. 31. The order will remain in effect until 11 p.m. on Oct. 2 unless Cooper rescinds it.
An ALE spokeswoman didn't respond to phone calls and an email seeking more information about the agency's enforcement actions in Winston-Salem and elsewhere in Forsyth County.
ALE agents talked to the operators at a number of bars in the city, said Tony Stevens, the owner of the Whiskey Dawg at 915 Brookstown Ave. The agents told the operators that if they didn't have permit to operate a restaurant within their businesses, then they would have to close, Stevens said.
"If that's what he (Cooper) said, then that's what I have to do," Stevens said.
The Whiskey Dawg said in a Facebook message that it had operated safely as a bar in the past few weeks before it closed.
Danielle Bull, the owner of Bull's Tavern at 408 W. Fourth St., said that ALE agent visited her business Wednesday. The agent told her that her business couldn't be open under Cooper's order.
"I'm going to comply, but I may go bankrupt at this point," Bull said. "I'm just trying to follow the rules."
The bar did "a couple run throughs, but the business hasn't been fully open for nearly six months, Bull said.
The Bull's Tavern had closed after Cooper's initial "stay at home" orders in mid-March amid the coronavirus pandemic, Bull said. Her 16 employees lost their jobs because of the closure, and their unemployment benefits have expired, she said.
Bull believes that privately-owned bars are being treated unfairly, as opposed to restaurants that have been allowed to reopen, she said. Bar owners are capable of following the state's safety guidelines, Bull said.
News about the closure of Vintage Sofa Bar at 1001 Burke St. and Joyner's Bar at 854 W. Fourth St. was posted Wednesday on the businesses' Facebook pages.
"Joyner's is sad to announce that our bar will be closing effective immediately until Phase 3 of the North Carolina's reopening," the bar said on Facebook. "Enforcement of the governor's Executive Order 141 happened today, whereas all bars not classified as restaurant are to be closed until further notice.
"Keep us in your hearts and minds," Joyner's said. "We look forward to seeing you again."
The ALE actions in Winston-Salem appear similar to enforcement reported earlier in Mecklenburg County. Two weeks ago, ALE agents visited 50 private bars in Charlotte, informing them they had to close due to Cooper's previous orders before he issued the Aug. 31 edict.
Cooper issued an executive order on May 20 that kept bars and other entertainment venues closed amid the coronavirus pandemic. In his Aug. 31 order, Cooper added language that outlined the COVID-19 transmission risk arising from alcohol consumption.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services have indicated hat the consumption of alcohol lowers inhibitions and makes people more likely to engage in behaviors that increase the risk of spread of COVID-19, according to Cooper's order.
"People who are drinking beverages cannot consistently wear face coverings," the order said. "And when people gather to consume alcohol in public, they often speak loudly, laugh, yell, or sing, spreading respiratory droplets that contain the COVID-19 virus."
The N.C. Bar and Tavern Association filed a request on June 4 for a temporary restraining order against Cooper's May 20 order, according to its website. The association represents 185 businesses statewide that have bars.
Under that order, "all types of ABC mixed beverage permit holders are allowed to operate with the exception of private bars," the association said.
"Despite our numerous requests, the governor's office has no science or data showing that having a drink in a private bar is more dangerous than having a drink in a brewery bar, distillery bar or even restaurant bar," said Zack Medford, the association's president.
Medford couldn't be reached Wednesday to comment on the status of the association's legal action.
Get local news delivered to your inbox!
Subscribe to our Daily Headlines newsletter.