Virginia bars must close by 10, while Tennessee bars across street in small border town remain open

In town of Bristol, bars on Tennessee side can stay open until 2 a.m., while last call across the street in Virginia is 10 p.m.

Updated: February 20, 2021 - 4:04pm

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Bars on the Virginia side of the street in the small border town of Bristol are allowed to remain open only until 10 p.m. due to state COVID-19 restrictions while bars on the other side of the street, governed by the state of Tennessee, are free to serve customers until 2 a.m. 

The imaginary line on State Street separates the livelihoods of small business owners by just about 40 feet.

Residents and merchants on the Virginia side of the town – population 45,000 – argue the strict rule is being handed down by lawyers in northern Virginia, more attuned to the ways of Washington lawmakers, just across the Potomac River.

"It’s ridiculous. It’s two totally different areas of the country," business owner J.J. Gillenwater said in a recent podcast. Gillenwater added that at 9:30 every night, he and other keepers must inform customers that they will soon be closing. Customer then make their way across the street to Tennessee , he said, where they are able to continue their night until 2 a.m.

“We are consistently losing money because of these restrictions,”Gillenwater's co-owner Blair Jones said. “Live entertainment has been curtailed which has impacted our late-night sales having to shut down at 10 p.m. It’s been a real killer for us.”

While the Tenn. Republican Gov. Bill Lee has lifted restrictions over time, Virginia Democrat Gov. Ralph Northam has extended an executive order restricting bars and restaurants from normal operations until at least the end of February.