Tucker, GA — A bar on Lawrenceville Highway is requiring patrons to show their vaccination cards and IDs upon entering.
It’s a decision that hasn’t gone over well with everyone who frequents Billy Bob’s New Secrets, the little dive bar tucked into a strip mall that’s become an unassuming watering hole for locals.
It’s owned by Walter “Bill” Brown, a man who has called Tucker home for 31 years. He said he’s taken flack for his decision to require proof of vaccination and has lost some customers over the decision, he said.
Running a food service business during a pandemic can be complicated, at times. But Brown said requiring vaccines was a simple call.
“I want a healthy bar. I want healthy workers and healthy community, and [requiring vaccines to come in the bar] helps to assist that,” said Brown. “You should do all you can to protect yourself, your family, your community and society. When we have vaccine available and people don’t get it, those people are jeopardizing the rest of us. They’re piggybacking on us, so they don’t have to do the right thing.”
Brown has lived in New York, Colorado, California, Florida, Texas, Virginia, Washington, D.C. and Costa Rica. But Tucker has been his home for more than three decades, and he’s owned the bar for 27 years.
He recalls his first visit to Tucker. He was driving through town on I-285, and he stopped at an Arctic Circle gas station in the Northlake area. Brown had $13 in his pocket, and the clerked wanted to charge him $5 for a map.
“I just want to look,” he told the clerk. “How far do you think I can make it on $13?”
The clerk said $13 ought to get him to Macon.
“I asked him, ‘If you were starting over, would you start over here or Macon?’ The clerk said here. So I stuck out my hand and told him, ‘Nice to meet you neighbor, I’m Bill Brown.’”
Billy Bob’s New Secret offers a different dinner special each night of the week, like country fried steak and fried chicken, but go for the green chili. Brown learned to make it while living in the southwest, where it is a specialty. Brown calls the bar a New York pub, a place where customers are served a good drink at a nominal price, and good but inexpensive food.
Brown said a new picnic area in back of the bar will be ready by spring, at the latest.
When vaccines became widely available, Brown asked his staff to get vaccinated, which they all did without a fuss, he said. Then he extended the policy to his patrons.
“I want a healthy bar and healthy customers, and I want my staff protected,” he said. “I have certain beliefs.”
It’s not the first time those beliefs have brought him into conflict with his clientele.
Brown said after the murder of George Floyd, he wrote on the bar window, “I can’t breathe” and “Black Lives Matter.” He figures he lost 25 percent of customers due to his message, but some eventually came back. And with the vaccine requirement? He said he lost 30 percent of his customers because he’s requiring proof of vaccination.
Brown isn’t worried.
“That’s ok, it should bounce back,” he said. “People who want to drink in a safe, healthy atmosphere can come on over.”
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