Chattanooga restaurants addressing masks, vaccine mandates as COVID cases rise

Cherry Street Tavern mandating proof of vaccine or negative test result

Staff photo by Troy Stolt / A shaker cup is seen at Cherry Street Tavern on Wednesday, May 5, 2021 in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Staff photo by Troy Stolt / A shaker cup is seen at Cherry Street Tavern on Wednesday, May 5, 2021 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Cherry Street Tavern has become the first known local venue to require patrons to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative test for COVID-19, and co-owner Marty Bohannon said the decision was made with the support of patrons and musical artists who perform there.

"In keeping with our contemporaries who are committed to providing the safest place possible for gatherings and entertainment, Cherry Street Tavern will require proof of vaccination OR a very recent negative COVID test," Bohannon said in a statement. "It is not only our decision but the decision of the artists and patrons alike. We look forward to the day we all come back together and COVID is behind us. As for now, this is the best way forward. As cases go down and vaccinations go up in Hamilton County, we will loosen restrictions."

The decision was announced a few days after 13 venues in Nashville made the same decision. Among those venues are the Exit/In, Bluebird Cafe, Cannery Ballroom and 3rd and Lindsley.

Like Cherry Street Tavern, those clubs are part of the National Independent Venues Association and part of a national trend of live music venues and events requiring vaccination or a negative test report.

Bohannon said he has told any acts that have been booked at the space and "as for now, we've had full cooperation."

The announcements follow a slew of similar ones from entertainment industry giants Live Nation and AEG about events and venues it books, such as Moon River in Chattanooga, the Railbird Festival in Lexington, Kentucky, and the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee.

All three events are happening in the next three weeks and will require proof of vaccination or a recent negative test result.

The Signal in Chattanooga is working under the guideline requests of the touring artists it books, according to general manager Devante Williams.

Wildflower Tea Shop & Apothecary owner Hillary Libby has been requiring patrons to wear a mask for about the last two weeks. She said there was some backlash on social media, but as a business focused on people's health and well-being, it was an easy decision to make. She said most of her customers fully support the decision.

"I would say overwhelmingly it was positive," she said. "Most of our community was thankful. There were a few that came at me with pretty hateful things, calling me a sheep, and it's hard not to take it to heart, but our business is about healing and offering wellness to people. It's a caring and healing space, and asking people to wear a mask while a pandemic is surging is a common-sense request. It protects my staff and the community."

Libby, a pharmaceutical rep for a decade prior to opening her shop, said wearing a mask is a simple, cheap and kind thing to do, and she doesn't understand customers who are rude to people in the service industry when confronted with following recommended guidelines.

"We've politicized this, and I wish people would just be abundantly kind, especially to service industry staff. These people are taking it on the nose on the daily. It's rough, and the staff are just trying to do their jobs and make a living."

Mia Littlejohn, co-founder of Proof Bar and Incubator - a food and beverage resource center with a shared kitchen, restaurant incubator and craft cocktail bar - works and communicates with several local restaurateurs.

"It is super tricky for restaurants right now," she said. "Between staff shortages and rising COVID numbers, and people beginning to reconsider indoor dining, it is super tough."

Contact Barry Courter at or 423-757-6354.