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Coronavirus shutdowns: Kid Rock's Nashville bar to remain open despite mayor's order

Taryn Ryder
·5 min read
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Kid Rock's Big Ass Honky Tonk Rock N' Roll Steakhouse in Nashville won't be shutting down despite a mandate from the mayor. Mayor John Cooper ordered bars throughout Davidson County, Tennessee, to close in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus, but Steve Smith — who co-owns the bar — said he won't comply.

"We appreciate the efforts of Mayor Cooper to combat the COVID-19 virus, but unless there's a statewide mandate that directs all bars and restaurants to be closed, the request made by Mayor Cooper is unconstitutional as he is targeting a select group of businesses," he said in a statement.

Co-owner says Kid Rock's Big Ass Honky Tonk Rock N' Roll Steakhouse in Nashville won't shut down after mayor's order.
Co-owner says Kid Rock's Big Ass Honky Tonk Rock N' Roll Steakhouse in Nashville won't shut down after mayor's order. (Photo: Getty Images)

On Sunday, the Metro Board of Health voted unanimously during a special emergency meeting to declare a public health emergency. The board endorsed Mayor Cooper’s restrictions.

Smith, who also owns Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and The Diner, continued, "We are compassionate with those who have contracted the COVID-19 coronavirus and all who are helping manage the crisis as the entire world addresses the outbreak. However, a Tootsie's patron as immediate as last night, mentioned having lived through the polio epidemic and didn't recall such extreme measures being handed down in history."

Smith said his three establishments will "will continue to remain open to serve the public until such statewide mandate is issued from the Governor of Tennessee."

Kid Rock has yet to publicly weigh in. Yahoo Entertainment reached out to a representative for the rocker but did not immediately receive a response. Harry Nelson, founder and managing partner of Nelson Hardiman, Los Angeles’ largest health care law firm, called their decision "dead wrong."

"Tennessee law empowers Nashville’s Metropolitan Board of Health to impose emergency public health measures," Nelson told Yahoo Entertainment. "Nashville Mayor John Cooper is lawfully issuing directives based on the Chief Medical Director’s recommendation. [The owners] may not like their decisions, but these are the designated officials empowered to make difficult decisions like this in a crisis. These closures are constitutional."

Nelson stressed, "lives are at stake."

"More people will die in a rapid spread of COVID-19 fueled by transmission at gathering places because our hospitals will be overwhelmed," he added. "There already aren’t enough ventilators for all of the people whose lives will depend on them. Kid Rock himself may be healthy, but other people who need care will pay a price for [the] decision."

Smith said he's awaiting a statewide mandate, which Nelson further explained.

"In our federal system, the state has sovereignty alongside the federal government and regulates the public health. Local city and county officials derive their power from state laws, regulations and authorization. In other words, mayors and local boards of health only have as much power as the state says they have," Nelson shared. "The state has absolute authority to close down businesses, order people to stay home and decide what the consequences are for people who violate these laws. The state already criminalizes defiant behavior and can further authorize local law enforcement and prosecutors to arrest and charge people like Kid Rock with crimes."

If a statewide mandate comes down and Kid Rock's Big Ass Honky Tonk Rock N' Roll Steakhouse remains open, they will likely face repercussions.

"Currently, most law on the books limit the punishments to criminal misdemeanors with limited fines for people who disregard public health official orders and create the risk of spreading infection," Nelson said, explaining in Tennessee, that can be 30 days in jail and fines of $50.

"But in the HIV context, Tennessee made it a felony, with up to 15 years and a $10,000 fine to expose another person to HIV," he noted. "We may see state governments passing laws to raise the stakes” around the coronavirus.

Mayor Cooper's order came after a video Saturday showed a downtown Nashville bar on the tourist-packed Lower Broadway filled with people. Singer Maren Morris, who lives in the city, voiced her outrage.

"While the rest of us are trying to be responsible in our homes and get this s*** over with, THIS?!" she tweeted. "Broadway, you aren't a hero for staying open."

As of Monday afternoon, Tennessee had 52 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, including 25 in Davidson County.

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For the latest news on the evolving coronavirus outbreak, follow along here. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC and WHO’s resource guides.