Tampa’s City Council met Monday determine if a handful of bars located across the city’s entertainment district should lose special use permits to serve alcohol on premises as a consequence for COVID-19 ordinance violations.
The council reviewed the actions of two Ybor City bars, the Purple Heart Lounge and 7th and Grove, at the meeting, hearing from code inspectors and the owners. Both bars walked away Monday with their permits intact — for now.
The Purple Heart Lounge, which went before the Council after being cited by city inspectors twice (Dec. 18 and again Jan. 8) for not complying with the mask mandate, was left in limbo after council members split in a 3-3 vote on whether the establishment was in violation of Tampa’s public health and sanitation codes.
With Council member Luis Viera absent, council members decided to delay any decision until March 4 so that Viera could provide a tie-breaking vote.
As for 7th and Grove, the council determined that the establishment had broken several orders, including Mayor Jane Castor’s executive order mandating masks and ensuing county orders on dining. However, the council decided not to suspend the bar’s alcohol permit after hearing from owners about improved security and mitigation efforts.
The quasi-judicial process allows the council to determine if a violation occurred, and then vote on punishment. The council has three criteria it can refer to in addressing punishment: the gravity of violation, actions taken to address it and the number of continued violations. In the case of 7th and Grove, the council determined the owners took steps to address the issue.
The council was also scheduled to hear about The Ritz Ybor and Prana Ybor’s Premier Nitespot on Monday, but the hearings were delayed until March 8, when the city will also be hearing MacDinton’s case.
Other bars have not been so lucky.
Tangra Nightclub and Ybor Cigars Plus went before the city Thursday for similar violations. Despite similar pleas, the City Council ruled that both bars would have to close their doors for three days in the upcoming week. However, they too evaded the looming threat of a permit suspension, or even revocation.
And the bars were not without protest.
Tangra Nightclub and Ybor Cigars Plus, along with Club Prana, filed lawsuits on Feb. 8 against the city seeking a writ of petition after being asked to appear before the Council for multiple violations of the city’s COVID-19 ordinances.
The lawsuits claimed that if an alleged violator contests a citation, which all three did, the county court must first determine that there was, indeed, a violation before the City Council can determine an appropriate penalty.
In each case, the Judge denied a write of petition, allowing the City Council to go forward with its hearings to suspend or revoke the liquor permits.
A Hillsborough County Circuit Judge also recently ruled that council members did have the power to suspend the ability to sell alcohol for businesses that violate the orders, since the orders carry the force of law due to the statewide declaration of a public health emergency.
The wave of citations and hearings for bars amid the pandemic come after the city garnered national attention for images and videos of party-goers in the city’s entertainment district gathered in cramped conditions, many without masks, after Super Bowl LV.