After imposing a ban on public gatherings of 50 or more people, including at restaurants and bars, on Monday to slow the spread of COVID-19, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has now ordered the closure of bars and restaurant dining rooms within the city limits.
The mandate, which allows for restaurants to continue operating with takeout and delivery services only, takes effect at midnight. However, bars and nightclubs that do not serve food, gyms, movie theaters, bowling alleys, arcades, and private social clubs must close entirely.
Most Atlanta area restaurants and bars have already voluntarily closed dining room service and transitioned to takeout and delivery or closed altogether to help prevent the spread of the virus.
Bee Nguyen, representing Georgia House District 89, and 18 state House and Senate colleagues sent a letter to Bottoms Wednesday asking for a number of relief provisions for restaurants and bars in Atlanta, including mandating closures, while allowing takeout and delivery, deferring payments and waiving tax penalties, and allowing beer and wine to-go without a separate license.
Nguyen received word from Bottoms late Wednesday afternoon that the city of Atlanta is already delaying payments on license renewals. The mayor is unclear about whether she has the authority to permit the sale of alcohol to-go, but would “gladly sign” the order if allowed. Nguyen contacted the governor’s floor leader Wednesday to inquire about selling alcohol to-go. She is also working with the Georgia Restaurant Association to provide provisions for Bottoms to allow Atlanta restaurants to sell unopened beer and wine via a “simple beer and wine package license.”
[Update] As of Friday morning, Bottoms officially signed an order allowing the city’s restaurants to offer beer and wine to-go for “off-premises consumption.” The order does not include options for open containers or liquor, and expires in 60 days.
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp has yet to enact a statewide ban on large public gatherings or order the closures of bars and restaurant dining rooms. Kemp told radio station Q99.7 on Wednesday he “can’t just shut things down” because a perceived overreach of his current emergency powers, provided to him by Georgia lawmakers, would cause people to “rebel” and not heed social distancing warnings.
At least 25 states across the country have mandated closures of restaurant dining rooms. Atlanta becomes the eighth major city to order such closures, joining Miami, Austin, Dallas, Forth Worth, Phoenix Houston, and Washington, D.C.
Earlier this week, Brookhaven, Dunwoody, and Decatur closed bars and suspended dine-in service at restaurants. On Wednesday, the city of South Fulton imposed a public curfew between 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. daily. The City of Sandy Springs announced Friday its restaurants are now limited to takeout only.
Update, March 20, 1:00 p.m.: This story has been updated with new information regarding allowing Atlanta restaurants to temporarily sell unopened beer and wine to-go.
NOTE: The novel coronavirus situation in Georgia is fluid and ongoing. Follow Eater Atlanta for continuing coverage on COVID-19’s impact on Atlanta’s restaurant industry. Additional stories are forthcoming.
Check the Georgia Department of Public Health website for further guidance and updates on COVID-19.