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Republican Lawmakers Eat Burgers at DC Bar Shut Down for Vaccine and Mask Mandate Violations

Senator Rand Paul is among the right-wing politicians rallying around the Big Board on H Street

The Big Board co-owner Eric Flannery appears on Fox News.

The DC health department officially shut down H Street bar and burger joint the Big Board Tuesday night, days after its liquor license was suspended for repeated violations of DC’s indoor mask and vaccine mandates. Stripped of its ability to sell alcohol, the business had continued operating with only food.

The bar has now officially risen to the national spotlight as prominent right-wing pundits and politicians rally around its open defiance to local Covid rules. Co-owner Eric Flannery gave his first real interview Monday night to Laura Ingraham on Fox News. (“I’m apolitical,” he told her, also noting the mask mandate “doesn’t really make any sense.”) Then on Tuesday, four Republican members of Congress—Rand Paul, Thomas Massie, Tim Burchett, and Victoria Spartz—made appearances at the Big Board after health inspectors posted a big yellow closure notice on its door, the Washington Examiner reported. The lawmakers and others indulged in some burgers and fries anyway.

“I’m incredibly proud of him. I’m very supportive of what he’s doing, because he’s saying my individual liberty is worth the price of me even losing my business,” Paul told the Daily Signal. The senator also tweeted out fundraising pages for the Big Board to his 3.5 million followers. So far, a GoFundMe campaign started by Daily Caller correspondent Henry Rodgers has raised more than $20,000 from more than 450 donors.

Paul, who’s introduced a bill in Congress to overturn DC’s vaccine mandates, also said that DC Mayor Muriel Bowser should be impeached, Reason reported.

Bowser, for her part, addressed the Big Board for the first time in a press conference last week just after the liquor board voted to suspend its license: “I’d like the business to comply, and we don’t want to shut anybody down…. We want to give people support, advice, supplies, help, whatever they need. But we do need them to follow the regulations.”

A health inspector had previously visited the Big Board on January 21 and found multiple patrons had entered the bar without wearing masks, the staff were not wearing masks, and no one was checking patrons’ vaccination status. The inspector asked a server to wear a mask, to which the employee responded, “It is not required.”

Owner Eric Flannery started to tear up as he told a small group, including reporters, about his stance last night: “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 this place is supposed to be open.”

Flannery also said he’s going to “keep on fighting” and hinted that legal action may be forthcoming: “The Mayor’s order—I talked with a lot of people—needs to be challenged in DC Superior Court.”

Apparently, though, not everyone who’s worked at the Big Board feels the same way. Late last night, someone with access to the Big Board’s Facebook account posted their own message to say some employees don’t have the same views as management and “this isn’t our place anymore.”

“This is and won’t ever be the same place anymore and we all can move on,” the message continues. “After all, this now an ‘apolitical’ bar. But look at who’s now associated with it.”

Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.