Relief is coming for the city of Tuscaloosa's smaller bars, as Mayor Walt Maddox prepares to amend his outstanding executive order and relax strict limits on their seating capacity.

The amended executive order, expected to be signed this week and go into effect Thursday evening, will look at capacity limits for bars as a floor, not a ceiling.

"All ABC lounge licensed establishments may operate at a reduced interior capacity of 50% of their occupancy as established by the fire marshal, but in no event shall any establishment’s capacity be reduced below 100 people based solely upon this Order."

This comes as an extreme relief for an establishment like Session Bar, which has a total capacity of 85 people. For weeks, Session has only been allowed to serve 42 patrons at once -- beginning Thursday, they can return to full capacity, although owner Hunter Wiggins said he will likely continue to implement his own restrictions on the number of people allowed in the bar.

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"We've never really allowed 85 people into the bar, even pre-COVID, but this is going to give us the ability to go back to a sweet spot somewhere around a 60-person limit," Wiggins said. "Those 18 people extra people, they make a huge difference during your peak hours over the course of five or six hours."

At slightly larger bars, 100 patrons will be allowed inside at once. Jackie's Lounge on Paul Bryant Drive, for example, has a max capacity of 114 people and has been operating at 50 percent capacity, only allowing 57 patrons in at a time. The amended executive order will allow the bar to serve 100 guests at a time beginning Thursday evening.

At the city's largest bars, where max capacity exceeds 300 people, the city will allow 150 patrons at once, regardless of what percentage of their total capacity that represents.

"An establishment with an occupancy 300 or more people may operate with a capacity of 150 people."

"We've worked to again loosen the spigot a little bit," assistant city attorney Scott Holmes said Tuesday. "Our much smaller establishments, places that have had a 40-person capacity potentially cut down to a 20-person capacity, they will be allowed up open to their full capacity as long as -- 100 people will be the floor."

The mayor's pending executive order will also allow the city's restaurants that have bars to resume walk-up bar service so long as they elect to follow the occupancy restrictions for standalone bars outlined above.

A restaurant can either stay under their current restrictions and only serve customers seated the bar or a table, or its management can opt to adhere to the same occupancy reductions as lounge license bars and resume walk-up bar service, which has been prohibited at city restaurants since last month.

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