A D.C. Blues Bar Ran a Mini-Vaccine Drive for Employees and Performers. Now Its Owner Wants the Right To Reopen.

Madam's Organ owner Bill Duggan says opening venues for the vaccinated would be a "win-win-win." Artists could perform, businesses could make money, and people would have one more reason to get their shot.


We're rapidly getting to the point where America's supply of vaccines will outstrip demand for them. At the same time, COVID-risky bars, concert halls, and theaters are still kept closed by government order.

Could these two problems solve each other?

Bill Duggan, the owner of the Madam's Organ Blues Bar in Washington, D.C., thinks so. On Tuesday, he sent an open letter to Mayor Muriel Bowser asking that she allow music venues like his to reopen on the condition that staff, performers, and customers all have their shots.

"This would be a cost-free and very effective incentive to vaccinate," Duggan wrote. "If, by just getting vaccinated, employees could return to work, artists could perform, and patrons could again visit their favorite bar, restaurant or business, many, if not most, will choose to get the shot."

The pandemic has been especially hard on the city's concert halls. Unlike standard restaurants or bars, which can still draw in customers with outdoor dining and, more recently, some limited indoor capacity, music venues have had their main attraction effectively banned since March.

Bowser did roll out a live entertainment pilot program at a few select businesses in September, but it was laughably restrictive. Venues were limited to 50 people (including staff and performers), and patrons had to be seated 20 to 30 feet from the stage.

A number of famous D.C. jazz bars and concert halls have been forced to close permanently. Madam's Organ has managed to hang on despite being totally closed since March 2020.

Duggan tells Reason he chalks up his venue's survival to the fact that, unlike a lot of concert hall operators, he also owns his building. A side gig as a real estate developer has also enabled him to cover the roughly $10,000 in monthly expenses he still has on a business bringing in zero revenue.

Having to go over a year without being able to host a single show comes with non-monetary costs too.

"People know that they can come [into Madam's Organ] any time and hear some of the best music they're ever going to hear," he says. "I didn't go into the business because I had a passion for hamburgers."

To expedite the reopening of his business, Duggan has been running his own mini-vaccine campaign, helping some 40 employees and performers schedule appointments anywhere shots were available—from Baltimore to northern Virginia—and organizing transportation there and back.

He says almost all of his staff and performers have been vaccinated. That's a better ratio than the district as a whole, where only 30 percent of residents have been at least partially vaccinated as of Monday.

Meanwhile, the D.C. government continues to take the most tepid steps toward reopening venues. Come May 1, seated live entertainment will be allowed to open up at 25 percent capacity, and live music will be allowed to perform "near" outdoor diners.

These capacity restrictions—and requirements for people to be far away from the stage—make this slight easing of COVID regulations almost meaningless, given the size of most venues, says Duggan.

"The average commercial townhouse in Washington, D.C., is 20 feet wide," he says. "Unless I can figure out a way to hang up the three or four people that could fit into that space on the wall, I'm shit out of luck."

Letting venues reopen with some sort of private vaccine requirement would do a much better job of keeping people safe, while allowing him, his employees, and the district's artists and musicians a chance to ply their trade.

Duggan says that customers could be checked at the door for proof of vaccination, whether that's on a paper card or smartphone app. Venues already have to check for proof of age, he notes, and the city's Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration is already set up to ensure they're in compliance. He adds that businesses are already allowed to decide who they let into their space (within the bounds of anti-discrimination law) and that he's not asking for any special favors.

The D.C. government is "spending all this energy and money going door to door to convince people to get the vaccine," says Duggan. "At the same time, they're saying you need to get the vaccine, they're saying but if you get it, continue to wear your mask, social distance, don't travel, all these restrictions stay in place." Allowing his approach, he he argues, would be a "win-win-win."

NEXT: COVID-19 Industrial Policy Fails Again

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  1. A blues bar in DC? I wish I knew about it when I was there. I never once detected an ounce of soul in any of the bars in my neighborhood. Just Applebee’s and assholes.

    1. Where in DC did you live, AU Park?

      1. No, mostly kidding, but I had heard of this place. Traffic, of course, limited the options when I was there. By the time I arrived home, the last thing I wanted to do was get back in the car.
        I was spoiled in Chicago, “The Kingston Mines” and “Buddy Guy’s Legends” are in a class by themselves.

  2. Got my second shot. Feel like I got run over by a truck. How can this be considered safe?

      Pay attention.

    2. That would be different from the average flu shot how exactly?

      Vaccines work by triggering your immune system. That triggering primes and prepares it for future exposure to the real bug. But, yeah, when your immune system kicks in, it can feel crappy – for a day or two. Get over it.

      1. This does not work the same way flu vaccines work. Your snobby theory is bunk.

        1. No it’s not. In general these vaccines work just like any other. J&J uses another disabled virus to deliver the payload, Moderna/Pfizer use mRNA.

          The two mRNA vaccines are a major step forward in vaccine technology. The mRNA can be quickly modified to address mutations in the virus. In this case, the vaccine was developed in about 2 weeks but took many months of testing to prove it was safe.

          1. You just contradicted yourself.

            1. No, actually I did not. All vaccines work by triggering an immune response. Some are more general (ie heat killed virus, like the chinese Covid vaccine) and some are very specific like Pfizer and Moderna. J&J is in between the two extremes.

              Feel free to go learn about biology before making extreme statements and calling people snobby.

              1. Snobby.

      2. I get a flu shot every year and never feel a thing.

        1. Lucky you. Some people feel terrible for a day.

        2. Back in the 1980’s, annual flu shots were mandatory (I was in the Air Force), and every flu shot made me feel pretty much like I had a mild case of the flu – aching and without energy for 24-48 hours. Then I still got the flu. Maybe it was milder than it would have been, but that’s hard to tell. Except for measles, mumps, and chickenpox (before there were vaccines for these), I was never in my life down with the flu or anything else for more than three days.

          Flu shots have been improved in the decades since then, with the balance between evoking a strong enough immune response and actually making people sick becoming better. COVID shots are still in their first year – not equivalent to those nasty flu shots in the first years of general use, but rather to several years earlier when only small-scale testing was allowed. It’s long been obvious that the FDA’s drug testing schedules are overly cautious and cause hundreds of deaths while new drugs are held back for every one saved by the years of testing, but they might have gone too far the other way this time.

    3. Feel bad for a day or two? Or possibly die, or have severe symptoms and side affects from Covid. Tough choice….

      1. Drive a car and die in a horrible accident, or walk. Tough choice.

        1. That is not a relevant comparison. There is no “shot” that eliminates car wreck chances by 95%.

          1. The poster didn’t say there was a vaccine to avoid car wrecks. They said “drive or walk.” Stop misrepresenting other people’s arguments.

  3. I hope Mr. Duggan realizes the liability he faces by forcing employees to accept an unapproved vaccine as a condition of employment, especially if that employee is a person capable of childbearing. All vaccines currently in use are ONLY approved for EMERGENCY USE. There have been NONE approved for a person pregnant or possibly able to become pregnant.

    1. There is strong evidence that pregnancy is not a contraindication to the vaccine.

    2. #LibertariansWhoHateBusiness

      I mean come on man. The owner faces no liability. He has the freedom to require whatever tf he wants. Because pro-freedom. Because America.

      I dont know when libertarians started to want to sue people out of existence because they engage in their freedom. He has the freedom to have his employees take the vaccine. Employees don’t like it, they can quit! Companies drug test. This is much less nefarious than that.


    Unearthed documents from one of the leading Chinese Communist Party propaganda groups reveal the names of “mainstream” U.S. journalists taking junkets from the group in exchange for favorable coverage, The National Pulse can exclusively reveal.

    The trips often came just before opinion editorials and news reports excusing Chinese Communist Party crimes, or opposing trade showdowns with the nation.

    CUSEF newsletter from 2009 and 2010 reveal the following journalists:

    Vox Co-founder and New York Times columnist Ezra Klein;
    Vox Co-founder Matthew Yglesias;
    CNN Senior Political Analyst and The Atlantic Senior Editor Ronald Brownstein;
    New York Times Reporter Bradford Plumer;
    Associated Press Vice President and Editor Marjorie Miller;
    The Hill Editor-at-Large Steve Clemons;
    Former NPR Senior Editor Marilyn Geewax;
    Former Newsweek and Wall Street Journal Marketplace Editor Kathleen Deveny;
    Former U.S. News and World Report Correspondent Tom Omestad;
    Chicago Tribune Columnist and Editorial Writer Steve Chapman;
    Former National Journal Correspondent Bruce Stokes (And the husband of President Biden’s Deputy Secretary of State nominee who has also taken CUSEF trips);
    Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Washington Bureau Chief Craig Gilbert;
    The Week columnist Shikha Dalmia.

    Frequent reason contributor Steve Chapman and former reason staffer Dalmia were on the Chinese payroll for years while writing for reason. Can’t say that it comes as a surprise.

    1. I am shocked, shocked.

    2. The usual suspects.

    3. They should have saved their money with Dalmia, she’s the definition of “please stop helping me” if you are unfortunate enough to share a view point with her.

    4. Thankfully the CCP has never funneled money to a President via POTUS’s son in exchange for favorable treatment such as genocide being downplayed as “cultural differences.”

  5. The original Madam’s Organ was “home base” for the harDCore band Bad Brains. The new one has (Had, maybe: I have not been in a few years) a huge painting of a well-endowed woman which the neighbors hated. Good burgers.

    1. Not forget the drag queen shows.

      1. Those were just bandmembers in Dischord bands. 🙂

    2. Re-ig-ni-tion.

  6. Shemales in Leeds is very popular web place for sexy chat contacts in UK

    1. I thought “Shemales in Leeds” was the code name for the Buzzfeed staff annual picnic.

  7. How about this: everything opens up regardless of vaccination status?

    We were told we had to do this to keep hospitals from being overloaded. We’ve done that.

    1. Good point. We flattened the fucking curve. Now let’s get drunk in bars and sing along with the tribute band. Invite Dr. Fauci. We’ll buy his drinks if he takes off his mask. We’ll buy him dinner if he sings with the band.

    2. Just two more weeks to flatten her curves.

    3. How’s that working out for Michigan right now?

    4. Here in the UK, members of the clergy said that they’ll find it morally impossible to enforce the government’s vaccine passport rules since it would be unChristian to refuse entry to the unvaccinated. Something about lepers springs to mind. If they hold their resolve, I might actually have reason to become a Christian (currently an atheist).

  8. If only DC were a state…

    1. Baby steps. First you crawl, then you walk, then you run.

      First we pack the supreme court…

  9. Ha ha some still think this is about controlling a virus.

    Maybe go to the local courts and sue? Oh wait the courts agree the executive can indefinitely and arbitrarily decide who can work and gather and who can’t.

    Surprise constitution no longer applies.

    It was written by old racist white guys anyways.

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