Eric Flannery, a military veteran, is on the cusp of losing his business. In his Washington, D.C., bar, The Big Board, Flannery has a strict “everybody is welcome” policy. He’s not demanding to see vaccination cards, as the District of Columbia now requires bars to do, and he’s not forcing his team to wear masks.
“The government doesn’t send me a paycheck. I send the government money. I am not an agent of the government to do this. If they want to come down and check people’s medical status, they’re more than welcome to. I don’t have the people for that,” says Flannery.
On Tuesday night, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Reps. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., Victoria Spartz, R-Ind., and Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., came to The Big Board, which had just received a shutdown notice from the D.C. Health Department, to show support for Flannery.
“When people ask me, ‘Where are you going to get on the other side of this?’, I don’t know,” says Flannery. “I just know that I’m doing the right thing and that this place is supposed to be open.”
Watch the video above to see the full remarks from Flannery and the lawmakers, or read this lightly edited transcript:
Sen. Rand Paul: I saw about The Big Board in the news saying that they are resisting. Then I saw Eric interviewed last night on Fox News. And I said, “Here’s a guy who said he was going to defend his country. And he still wants to defend his right to have a business.” And I say, “Raise a glass,” but we can’t raise a glass other than water because the government’s shutting him down.
But to Eric, I want to say thank you for having the guts to stand up and say, “This is my living. This is my restaurant.” The government shouldn’t force people to present their medical records. But thank you, Eric.
Eric Flannery: Thank you, Senator. Thank you.
Paul: Tell us a bit about what’s going to happen.
Flannery: Well, before I do that, I want to tell you guys just a little bit about me. You guys probably don’t know me. A lot of the world doesn’t know me. I’m just a little old bar owner.
I came out here, we opened this up with my brothers. When I did it, my brother first told me he wanted me to open up a bar in Northeast D.C., and I was living out in Washington state and I laughed at him on the phone and said, “There’s no chance I’m ever coming to Northeast D.C. to open up a bar.”
I came out here, saw the neighborhood, and was like, “Wow, this is going to be a great place.” I searched around for a year calling all of the for sale, for lease things. The last time I worked in a bar restaurant was when I was 18 years old and I crushed boxes at Chuck E. Cheese’s.
And I just kept on plugging and plugging. And I met the landlord down here. He’s a really great guy. And he said, “Hey, I’m going to take a chance on you doing this.” We’ve been down here for 10 years now.
I love all the people who come down here. And when people say that, it’s Doug and Chris and Nancy and Ken and Sally, and all of these customers that are coming in. And when I say I know him, it’s not just that I know him. I know that Ken only drinks Dewars on the rocks. I know that he lives three doors down. I know that he loves railroads. I know that Doug’s from Cincinnati and Doug really likes Cincinnati ice cream. And I know who wants a straw in their drink. I can certainly remember a lot of people, and the bartenders and servers that are here, they’re great.
So when COVID hit, I looked and I said, OK, I didn’t know what was going on. We followed all the rules that D.C. ever gave us. When it was, “Hey, all the bar stools have to be up,” all our bar stools were up. When it was, “Hey, all of your tables have to be up,” they were all up.
We got to the point, I was walking and selling and doing some things and we had a closing in the kitchen at 9:15, and I saw my cooks and we got a order right at 9:15. And I saw my cooks and they were running toward that bus stop. And I was like, “Whoa, why are you guys running?”
I talked with them the next day. They said, “Well, if we don’t get that bus—”, takes them from here to 14th and K, they couldn’t get the bus from 14th and K up to Columbia Heights and they had to walk the 3 miles to get there because D.C. had switched to a modified bus schedule.
So I said, “Oh, OK. I’m just going to give you guys a ride home.” So I put them in my car and I drove him home every day. And then I was like, “Huh, how about getting to work? How’s that, guys?” And they were like, oh, 3 [p.m.] they had to be here. They were like, “We leave at 11 a.m. to get there.” I was like, “All right, I’ll come pick you guys up, too.” So I went and picked them up in the morning and I took them home at night.
One of the games that we used to play on the way home—people who don’t know, we’re on the east side of the city, Columbia Heights is way over on the northwest. We would drive a different way through the city to go home every night, all these different neighborhoods. And we played a game, looking, hey, which restaurants are following the orders? Which ones are not? And we would count nightly.
If I, from my car with two cooks, could pick out 10 places every night that weren’t doing the rules, man, I was frustrated that the city never went and enforced it. They marginally enforced it. They will show you records that that was there, but they didn’t really. Came down here. We went all the way through. And by the time we’re done May 27, we were reopened.
And I decided that this bar was going to be what it is, which is a place where everybody is welcome. No matter what happened, that’s what we were going to be. My servers, they are not lesser people that need to be masked. They don’t carry disease. They wash their hands. They’re clean. They follow all the health guidance, all of the regulations that are there with that.
Since I announced on Twitter, “Hey, this is what we’re going to do,” the Department of Health has been here four times. The ABRA [the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration], which is the D.C. licensing agency, has been here eight or nine times. I have been nothing but nice and respectful to these gentlemen and ladies who have come in here.
When ABRA comes in, they hand me a document and they’re like, “You got to sign here.” And I’m like, “Can I go make a photocopy of this document? I’ve got a photocopier right here. It works.” And they’re like, “No, you can’t have a photocopy of this document.” I was like, “I can’t have a photocopy of the document that I’m signing?” And then you guys can go down and ask ABRA if that’s true, then they take that and they put it into a form. And that form got sent to a committee, the D.C. ABRA committee.
They held a meeting on Wednesday. I went down to ABRA on that Wednesday because miraculously, I had a license that I had to re-up on. So I have proof that I was down there. And guess who didn’t invite me to the meeting while I was there? Guess who didn’t let me go? I wasn’t invited. I was informed very shortly by a person who was here that there was going to be a meeting on Wednesday.
So I am now signing documents that I’m not allowed to make photocopies of. And my business’ alcohol license was taken away on documents that I didn’t have and weren’t issued to me.
I went down there, because it’s me, to ask for those documents, too. And they told me to put in a FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] request. I don’t know what a FOIA request is. If you guys want to know how I wrote it, I wrote “FOYA” because I didn’t understand what FOIA was. I really didn’t.
They provided me those documents and giving them here and I’ve got to go down there and sign a piece of paper that says I’m going to appeal this. I am. I’m going to appeal it. And people ask me what I’m going to do. Well, first, I’m going to appeal to the humanity of the people on that board because we’re doing absolutely nothing wrong here. We are not.
We’re not doing anything wrong. We’re treating everybody with respect. There’s not been any bad incidents here. It just hasn’t happened. And I hope that they will see the folly of somebody here who is serving you a drink having to wear a mask.
The government doesn’t send me a paycheck. I send the government money. I am not an agent of the government to do this. If they want to come down and check people’s medical status, they’re more than welcome to. I don’t have the people for that.
When people walk into this place, we get them and sit them down and get them a drink and get them a beer. That’s it. We get them food. Really good food. And I’m talking a lot here, but I’m telling you, this is what I want to do. …
And thank you. Thank you guys for being here. I really appreciate it. I don’t know. I really don’t know when people ask me, “Where are you going to get on the other side of this?”, I don’t know. I just know that I’m doing the right thing and that this place is supposed to be open. …
Rep. Thomas Massie: I’ll be short. If the mandate is illogical, the only logical thing to do is to defy it. If the mandate is unconstitutional, it is constitutional not to follow it. If the mandate is unscientific, the only scientific thing to do is to ignore it. And so God bless you and thank you for being in the fight.
Flannery: Thank you, sir. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you,
Paul: And from Tennessee, Tim Burchett.
Rep. Tim Burchett: … I’m just going to tell you all the good stuff’s already been said, but if you want to come to Tennessee, we’re a freedom-loving state, and we’d love to have you, brother.
And on behalf of the government, it is just a disgrace what they have done to you. My father fought for this country and Marine Corps and you’re a Navy veteran. And to me that means a lot. In Tennessee, it still means a lot. And I know it does in Kentucky as well. So I want to thank you for your fight and just keep it up, brother. And I’m sorry they’re shutting you down.
Flannery: No, and thank you guys. And when I say, “I don’t know,” that doesn’t mean I plan [to] stop fighting. I’m going to keep going all the way to the end. That is my plan. I’m going to continue to keep on fighting and do whatever I can. The mayor’s order, as far as I can tell, I talk with a lot of people, needs to be challenged in D.C. Superior Court …
Massie: This is Victoria Spartz from Indiana.
Rep. Victoria Spartz: We might have to now compete, not just with Kentucky, but with Tennessee, too, but you are very welcome and Indiana has No. 1 government in the country. So we would love to have your business and we can use some good restaurants, too. Thank you for what you do.
Flannery: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
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