Steve Smith has never been afraid to call out the leaders in Nashville government.
The outspoken owner of Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, Kid Rock’s, and several other bars in downtown Nashville generated controversy early on in the pandemic when he refused to close his bars, though he later backed down and agreed to follow the city’s orders. Smith has also had several of his bars cited for failing to follow social distancing and capacity limits, and has a lawsuit against the city still pending in federal court over the mayor’s restrictions on bars.
While bars in Nashville have been allowed to reopen, the city has mandated a 10 PM last call and an 11 PM closing time for the last few months. And now, Smith is calling on Nashville Mayor John Cooper to lift his curfew and allow bars to resume their normal hours of operation.
In a press conference in front of Tootsie’s on Lower Broadway, Smith delivered an impassioned plea for the mayor to allow bars to remain open until 2:30 AM, calling the mayor a “bad actor” and warning that eventually, bar owners will have no choice but to defy city orders and remain open past curfew.
“I’m afraid that if the mayor [doesn’t] listen to us, and [doesn’t] come to some kind of agreement to give us our hours back, everybody on this street, everybody in the city of Nashville, is eventually going to open up. We’re going to take our hours back.
And if that happens, the jails ain’t big enough to hold all of us. The courtrooms ain’t big enough to hold all of us. We won’t care about the fines. We’ve had it up to here with starving to death.”
Smith specifically took aim at the restrictions on bars’ operating hours, saying that “there ain’t no damn science in shutting us down at 10:00 at night.” Smith mentioned that bars and restaurants have learned to adapt to capacity requirements, social distancing and mask mandates, and argued that tourists are safer in a bar that’s enforcing social distancing than stopping at a liquor store on the way home and holding a party after the bars close at 10 PM.
During the press conference, Smith had harsh words for Mayor Cooper, imploring him to “get off his ass and get us back open.”
According to Smith, the downtown bars have lost millions of dollars due to the “stupid law” requiring bars to close early, and even mentioned that were the restrictions hampering his ability to make money not in place, he would have been able to provide more assistance to the businesses impacted by this weekend’s bombing.
Smith was quick to point out that unlike others in the city, he’s not been involved in any efforts to recall Mayor Cooper like other bar owners have done, but also left the door open to joining future efforts to remove the mayor if Cooper continues imposing curfews and burdensome restrictions.
I mean, he has a point. People don’t stop partying at 10 PM, and COVID doesn’t come out after dark. People move the party to another county or to a house or hotel room. At least bars are controlled environments where police and inspectors can verify that the owners are complying with safety requirements. But is opening up completely the answer? I don’t know… With Nashville’s COVID numbers, it’s a pretty hard sell.
It remains to be seen whether Mayor Cooper and the leaders in Nashville pay any attention to Smith’s pleas, or whether the threats from Smith to defy the city’s restrictions actually come to fruition.
But either way, it’s clear that bar owners are getting frustrated and are ready to fight back against the city’s curfew.