This story has been corrected.
Outlaws Longview Bar owner Melissa Lynn Kelly reopened her East Marshall Avenue establishment at 4 p.m. Friday, with no citations from Longview police and in defiance of Gov. Greg Abbott’s order that had left bars closed after he began loosening restrictions on businesses that had been shuttered to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Kelly allowed as many as 18 customers at a time into the bar to limit them to 25% of capacity of the building, the same percentage as restaurants and other businesses are required to apply. The bar had been closed under an executive order Abbott issued that went into effect at midnight March 20.
Kelly used a ticket drawing system to decide the order of entry, and Longview resident Cole Thompson became the first customer to go inside.
“It’s nice,” he said. “We are going to play some pool. Check it out.”
As many as 40 people had gathered outside within a half-hour of Outlaws Longview Bar reopening Friday.
And as of 4:30 p.m., no authorities had arrived to cite Kelly for violating Abbott’s order.
“That is the governor’s rule,” Mayor Andy Mack said. “That is the governor’s issue, not mine.”
The city of Longview is sticking with the education approach, city spokesman Shawn Hara said. He said city police had spoken to the owner, and the city notified the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission on Thursday.
Kelly, who holds a beer and wine license, said she notified the Longview Police Department and TABC in advance of reopening, and she said police presented her a copy of Abbott’s order Thursday.
Regular customers arrived to show support, and some of them wore Outlaws Longview Bar T-shirts and held miniature American flags. A message in all capital letters on the wall read, “Open the bars, Gov. Abbott.”
“I think it is crazy,” said Tricia Merritt of Longview, a bar patron for 29 years and former part-time bartender. “I think they should reopen Texas all the way around.”
Customer Mark Neel of Longview said Kelly has done “a lot of work for the past six months trying to improve the place. Everybody loves her. She is a sweet lady. She is trying to make a living like everybody else, and we support her 100%.”
Kelly had arranged for the band Down Home to begin playing in the back yard at 6 p.m., and she planned to stay open until midnight Friday.