Sen. Rand Paul (R–Ky.) made an appearance at Big Board, a bar in the H Street neighborhood of Washington D.C., after the city revoked its liquor license and then shut it down for refusing to enforce COVID-19 mask and vaccine mandates. Paul and his staff visited the restaurant on Tuesday night, shortly after D.C. Health posted a closure notice on its front door.
"I'm proud of the owner for not submitting," says Paul.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R–Ky.) attended as well. Both thanked the owner, Eric Flannery, for protesting the idea that the government could force restaurant servers to inspect customers' medical records.
"I'm just a little old bar owner," says Flannery, reciting the names of his regular customers. "I've been down here for ten years, and I love everybody who comes."
The Big Board followed all the city's COVID-19 requirements from the outset, but at this point in the pandemic, the mandates are an infringement on his restaurant's welcoming ethos, says Flannery. He is particularly passionate about allowing his staff to forego masks.
"My servers are not lesser people," he says. "They don't need to be masked. They don't carry disease."
If checking vaccine cards was so critically important, the city could send agents to do that, he says.
"I don't have the people for that," he says. "I just know that I'm doing the right thing and this place is supposed to be open."
The Big Board is far from the only D.C. establishment to decline to follow the city's masking and vaccination requirements, but it is the first to do so vocally. Flannery made his stance clear on Twitter, and reiterated it during a recent Fox News appearance, which provoked the government's ire. (Disclosure: I donated to the Big Board's GoFundMe.)
D.C.'s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration has issued 50 verbal warnings to various restaurants whose staff failed to mask up at all times. Customers, of course, don't wear masks while they're eating and drinking. Intentionally or not, such requirements are creating a second class of serving staff who must follow stricter rules than other people, even though there is no scientific support for the idea that one group is more prone to disease than any other.
Both Paul and Massie tell Reason that D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser's enforcement of the mandates was illegitimate.
"Congress has allowed you to make these rules, and you've shown yourself unsuitable," says Massie.
When asked what message he had for Bowser, Paul says she should be impeached. "We have a bill in the House and the Senate to take away the authority to enforce these mandates," he says.
The Big Board served burgers, fries, and water—no booze, alas, in light of the liquor license suspension—to the lawmakers and their staffs.