If you want to dance to a country band and drink domestic beer out of a mason jar, Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill in Woodbridge will fit the bill. Just remember to leave your guns at home.
The bar, which opened in Stonebridge at Potomac Town Center on Dec. 17, has made waves online, but not for its menu or by booking shows by up-and-coming artists Dustin Lynch and Chris Cagle. Instead, the awkwardly named Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill – a national franchise with 15 locations, but not actually owned by Keith – is taking heat for putting a sign on the door that says "No Guns Allowed." Soon after the restaurant's sign was posted, a Facebook group called "Boycott Toby Keith" surfaced, and comments on the restaurant's Facebook page have been dominated by discussions for and against the policy.
Virginia is a gun-friendly state, and gun owners are permitted to openly carry weapons inside restaurants. On the other hand, it's a misdemeanor to consume a single alcoholic beverage in a restaurant while carrying a concealed weapon, and it's illegal to carry a gun into a private business if the owner has posted a sign that guns are prohibited.
Toby Keith's I Love This Bar issued the following public statement, through Facebook:
"While we understand and respect every person's right to own and bear arms, we at Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill, with guidance from the State of Virginia and based on insurance regulations, have adopted a no weapons policy. It is our desire to provided [sic] a safe, enjoyable and entertaining experience for our patrons and staff."
At last count, there were almost 1,200 comments on that Facebook post alone, split between people applauding the policy, saying that they didn't want to be around people who were drinking while carrying guns, and others arguing that by banning weapons, Toby Keith's was inviting "bad guys" to come in and shoot up the place willy-nilly, since they will know that no one in the restaurant is armed.
It must be said that the likelihood of the latter occurring is extremely low. I've been working this beat for 11 years, and there have been very few instances when "bad guys" entered an establishment and shot or robbed a room full of customers. You might remember that five people were shot inside D.C. Soundstage in January 2013, though that was a private event at a "private club"; or when a trio of robbers cleaned out the registers and stole wallets from customers at the Wonderland Ballroom in 2006. Those events were news because they're far from the norm. Instead, the vast majority of violence related to bars and clubs, such as this week's stabbings at District in Adams Morgan, or the shooting at Indulj on U Street in December 2012, happened on the street outside an establishment -- where the patrons of Toby Keith's would be free to carry their weapons.
Fueling the fire is that Toby Keith's policy makes it an outlier among Woodbridge restaurants. Not Your Average Joe's says it has no policy on customers carrying guns (open or concealed) into the restaurant, and a manager at Firebirds Wood Fired Grill says the restaurant "follows Virginia law," which means it's legal to openly carry a weapon.
The Facebook battle over Toby Keith's I Love This Bar shows no sign of abating: The recent announcement of a January 30 concert by chart-topping country singer Dustin Lynch was not greeted with cheers from people excited to hear Lynch sing his platinum single "Cowboys and Angels," but with comments like "So, the person that wants to blow off some steam and will break the law by killing a bunch of random people, he or she can come to your place without any fear of being resisted?" and "Toby, you are my hero for not allowing guns in your restaurant. It is about time someone takes a stand on this."
If you're looking for a place to have a proxy battle about Second Amendment rights, bookmark Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill. If you're more excited about taking a spin on the restaurant's mechanical bull, I'm told it will arrive in three to four weeks.