A Firestone sports bar reopened to indoor dining Sunday after temporarily shutting down because state Department of Revenue officials threatened to suspend its liquor license for defying state public health orders.
For Parrott’s Sports Grille owner and manager Chase Bonner, it was a simple, if agonizing, decision. If he closes down again it will be permanent, because Parrott’s can’t make it through another shutdown. The bar at 6050 Firestone Blvd. has been on the brink of insolvency for a month, and closing its doors now would be a death knell.
“There will be no comeback from us closing again,” Bonner said. “Do we simply lay down and die or do we take a stand and fight as long as humanly possible for the life I’ve built for myself and my employees?”
Parrott’s employs 12 people, Bonner said. Before the pandemic and its accompanying financial strain, Parrott’s had 24 people on the payroll.
“We have no way out other than to stand up and break the order or, as Gov. (Jared) Polis refers to them, laws,” Bonner said. “And when it comes to your livelihood and the livelihood of your employees, I don’t think there’s any choice in what we have to do.”
Parrott’s has operated with reduced capacity and distanced indoor seating for months and is barely breaking even as a result, Bonner said. There have not been any outbreaks of COVID-19 at Parrott’s, according to Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment data. Weld County recorded 662 new coronavirus cases on Monday and has a 15.73% two-week case positivity rate.
When Polis announced that Weld County would be among the Colorado counties moving to “level red” restrictions — which include no inside dining — but that enforcement would be up to local authorities, Bonner was relieved. Though coronavirus cases are surging and available intensive care beds are dwindling, Weld County is not enforcing state public health mandates, instead leaving it up to individuals to decide what’s best.
But on Nov. 23, Bonner was contacted by the Liquor Enforcement Division in the Department of Revenue. Someone had driven by and had seen customers inside, and officials told Bonner that if the bar didn’t close down, the division would suspend Parrott’s liquor license and hold a hearing, at which officials would either suspend the license indefinitely or revoke it altogether.
It was the only time Bonner has been contacted by state officials about public health orders.
Parrott’s closed Nov. 24, but after talking with other local businesses and attorneys, Bonner chose to reopen Sunday. In a post on its Facebook page Saturday, the bar wrote that staff were organizing a phone tree “for if/when enforcement agencies show up in order to hopefully be able to get support on site quickly,” and that patrons could sign up to be notified if they wanted to be able to come show support.
The Department of Revenue declined to comment on the Parrott’s case because the Liquor Enforcement Division “is in an active administrative action at this time,” spokesperson Suzanne Karrer said in a statement.
“The Division is assisting local public health officials and the Governor’s office in supporting the mission of public safety and is suspending liquor licenses that choose not to comply with the statewide orders to keep the public safe,” Karrer said. “The Division has worked tirelessly to educate our licensees with the changing circumstances, in hopes of keeping businesses open and in compliance with public health orders.”
At least one other Weld County business has already lost its liquor license because of state enforcement. Bulldog Pub & Grub in Greeley lost its liquor license last week because it remained open to indoor dining with the blessing of county officials, according to The Denver Channel.
Bonner said he thinks the state’s enforcement goes above and beyond what the law allows. He’s communicated with Department of Revenue officials in the past week and was told it’s his job to make sure he knows what the rules are. He has left four voicemails for Polis, some while he was in tears, but has not gotten a call back from the governor’s office. A spokesperson for Polis did not immediately respond to a request for comment, though Polis has previously said that the state can enforce public health orders in restaurants the same way it enforces rules that prevent the spread of salmonella.
“I understand the pandemic is serious and has to be taken seriously, but we have to be looking ahead to the future,” Bonner said. “If we don’t, there might not be one.”
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