Enforcement actions could be coming for the Wild Horse Saloon after the downtown Durango bar opened to indoor service last weekend in defiance of public health orders aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19.
Liane Jollon, executive director of San Juan Basin Public Health, said the health department has referred a complaint to the city of Durango and the state Department of Revenue’s Liquor and Tobacco Enforcement division.
“We’ve forwarded the concern to the appropriate dual licensing agencies ... to open an investigation,” Jollon said. “Then we would regroup and decide next steps together.”
Requests for comment to the city of Durango and the Department of Revenue’s Liquor and Tobacco Enforcement division were not immediately returned Wednesday morning.
Durango Police Chief Bob Brammer said officers noted the Wild Horse Saloon was open for indoor service Friday and Saturday nights, with its owner, Amber Gilchrist-Morris, openly promoting it.
“It’s no secret they were open both Friday and Saturday night,” Brammer said.
A video on social media has also circulated in recent days that apparently shows the inside of the Wild Horse Saloon on Saturday night, though The Durango Herald could not confirm the video was shot that night.
A call for comment to Gilchrist-Morris was not returned Wednesday.
Gilchrist-Morris posted a video to the Wild Horse Saloon’s Facebook page on Monday about choosing to stay open this past weekend.
“This weekend, to see all the smiles on everyone’s faces, to feel the love and connection with all those people ... it reminds me why I’m here and why I started this battle in the first place,” she said.
Gilchrist-Morris goes on to question the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic, and says the “endgame” of health officials and public health orders “is to keep us dependent on government funds.”
“There are a few people in this town using their power to control and predicate what’s good for us and decide what we need to do for our own bodies,” she said. “They’re not the experts on my life. I’m the expert on my life.”
In terms of the decision to reopen this weekend, Gilchrist-Morris said, “I don’t know what this week is going to bring. I have no clue.”
In a similar situation, the town of Lyons Board of Trustees voted this week to revoke the business license and suspend the liquor license of a bar that refused to close to indoor service called Lyons Den Restaurant and Tap House, Fox 31 reported.
The state Department of Revenue’s Liquor and Tobacco Enforcement division then raided and seized all of the liquor inside the Lyons Den, according to Fox 31.
La Plata County moved into the Level Red public health order Nov. 20 as the result of a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases.
Under Level Red, bars are required to close unless they serve food. However, these establishments cannot offer indoor dining and are limited to offering only takeout and delivery services, as well as outdoor dining.
Tensions over public health orders among restaurant and bar owners have been rising in recent days after being closed to indoor service.
CJ’s Diner, for instance, chose to keep offering in-person dining until this week after a District Court judge ordered law enforcement to shutter its doors.
Health officials say eating inside comes with a high risk of spreading infections, as customers take off their masks to eat and drink and are typically in close contact with people from other households.
Jollon said when a complaint is filed against a business suspected of breaking a public health order, it is directed to the appropriate investigating agency. Then, once investigations are complete, local and state agencies decide on further action.
DPD’s Brammer said “multiple places” are on the department’s radar, though he declined to name the businesses, citing open investigations.
“Anyone in defiance of these orders is being investigated,” he said.
Brammer stressed that DPD officers are solely the investigators in public health order violations, and it is up to other agencies to formally decide whether to pursue any kind of enforcement action.
“The last thing we want to do is penalize hard-working people,” he said. “It’s a very difficult, tough situation. The only way we’re going to be able to do this is bond as a community, not separate.”