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Corona Economics

State yanks liquor licenses from 4 bars over social distancing

The bars were overcrowded and not following social distancing guidelines.

Four bars lost their liquor licenses Tuesday as state authorities charged them with violating social distancing requirements last weekend, including a restaurant  in Estero charged with having more than twice the allowed number of people inside during the coronavirus crisis.

Liquor licenses were suspended Tuesday by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for Rusty’s Raw Bar & Grill in Estero, Pegasus Nightclub & Lounge in Tampa, Mathers Joysticks Arcade Bar in Orlando, and Pockets Pool & Pub in Tallahassee.

Florida initially closed bars on March 20 when Gov. Ron DeSantis banned the sale of on-premises alcohol consumption, DeSantis then reopened bars on a limited-capacity basis on May 4. But after bars were widely blamed for fueling the COVID-19 outbreak resurgence in June, the department reclosed many bars on June 26, if alcohol sales provided more than 50% of the revenue.

Since then, DeSantis and DBPR Secretary Halsey Beshears have variously said they would consider reopening or not reopening bars, depending on conditions and negotiations with businesses. At the same time, Beshears’ office has sought to crack down on bars the department charges have been violating the rules that allow them to stay open, as if to send the message that it takes those measures seriously.

In the case of Rusty’s Raw Bar & Grill in Estero, state alcohol agents contend that on Saturday they witnessed more than 200 patrons inside the bar with a long line of more people outside waiting to enter. Rules limited capacity at that establishment to 94 people.

“Additionally, patrons were packed inside and standing shoulder-to-shoulder while congregating at the bar area being served and dancing on the dance floor. Social distancing measures were not being enforced,” reads a DBPR order suspending the bar’s license.

At Pegasus, on Saturday, the establishment, “which operates as a standalone bar without food service, was open and operating in violation” of the Governor’s executive orders. The suspension order also contends the crowd exceeded the bar’s capacity limit and “patrons were standing shoulder-to-shoulder while congregating at the bar area being served alcoholic beverages. Social distancing measures were not being enforced. Groups of patrons also were seen in close proximity to one another during a live concert performance.”

At Joystick Arcade Bar, also on Saturday, “patrons were being served while standing at the bar area. Patrons were standing shoulder-to-shoulder while congregating in the bar area. Social distancing measures were not being enforced,” the order states.

At Pockets Pool & Pub, on Friday patrons “were being served while standing at the bar area. Patrons were standing shoulder-to-shoulder while congregating at the bar area. Social distancing measures were not being enforced,” the order states.

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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