An order from the Alabama Beverage Control (ABC) Board that mandated bars and lounges in the state operate at half-capacity expired last month to little fanfare and was not renewed or replaced, allowing establishments across Alabama to welcome more patrons back inside their bars.

Dean Argo, an ABC spokesman, said the situation is somewhat convoluted. The Board's administrative order limiting bars and lounges to 50% capacity expired on Feb. 25, and rather than extending or amending the order, the ABC opted to tie any restrictions it enforces to the existing Safer at Home order issued by Gov. Kay Ivey and State Health Officer Scott Harris.

"Our order did expire in February, and the governor and State Health Officer do not have a capacity restriction in their orders," Argo said. "So currently, technically, there are no capacity restrictions for bars and restaurants."

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The Safer at Home Order, which Ivey amended and extended last week, also removed previous guidance limiting party size at each table in restaurants, bars and breweries. Now those businesses may operate as normal, although the statewide mask mandate remains in effect until April 9 and the order still requires social distancing of six feet or more between different groups.

Therein, Argo said, lies the rub. The ABC will continue to enforce social distancing requirements, and most establishments would likely struggle to operate at full capacity while also keeping parties at least six feet apart.

"I think, at full capacity, it’s impossible to keep people at a six-foot social distance, so you’re no longer tied to a capacity number, but you are required to try to keep people socially distanced who are not part of the same group or family," Argo said. "The nightmare is trying to enforce that."

Argo said municipalities are also able to adopt their own restrictions and orders to limit occupancy of bars and restaurants, but the city of Tuscaloosa was under no such order Monday. A previous executive order from Mayor Walt Maddox that restricted capacity in restaurants and bars was rescinded in September.

A spokesperson for the Tuscaloosa Police Department confirmed that its officers will continue to work its "Strip Details" on busy nights and weekends but will no longer be checking capacity numbers.

"The half-capacity regulations were just something that we were monitoring while those orders were in effect," the TPD spokesperson said. "Officers will continue to work Strip Details and enforce any mask ordinances that are in place."

The final takeaway seems to be that bars, lounges and restaurants in Tuscaloosa and across Alabama can operate at full capacity again, but good luck doing so while sticking to social distancing rules.

Argo also noted that ABC's mission is to keep business owners informed, to communicate with them and help them keep patrons safe, not to aggressively enforce frequently changing rules, orders and guidelines with punitive measures.

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