Serve it up.
Some taverns and bars are making their way around state prohibitions to continue serving patrons, but the industry’s legal battle with the state is only beginning.
Groups of bar owners across Florida have filed lawsuits against the state challenging its “discriminatory” COVID-19 restrictions toward bars.
The sale of alcoholic beverages for on-premises consumption at bars has been prohibited since June 26, but the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation amended the order July 1 to allow bars that were already licensed to sell food to resume the sale of alcohol for on-premises consumption.
That put the Moose Lodge in Bradenton Beach back in business.
And other bars have reopened under the amendment, but the prohibition on selling alcohol for on-premises consumption remains for some standalone bars.
Several lawsuits claim the state has discriminated against the bar industry with the prohibitions, while allowing restaurants — establishments that derive less than 50% of gross revenue from alcoholic beverage sales — to serve customers cocktails, beer and wine.
Such lawsuits have been filed in Broward, Martin, Orange and Volusia counties.
Joe Cuervo, owner of Drift In, 120 Bridge St., and another bar in Bradenton, has told The Islander that he and a group of other local bars, including the Anchor Inn in Holmes Beach and the Gator Lounge in Bradenton, also would file a class-action lawsuit against the state’s restrictions.
However, as of July 25, nothing had been filed with the Manatee County Clerk of Court under Cuervo’s name or the names of the involved bars.
Cuervo declined to name his attorney.
Cuervo said July 25 the lawsuit was still set to move forward but did not detail when it would be filed. Nevertheless, he was happy other bar groups had launched lawsuits.
“The more the merrier,” he said. “It’s totally unfair. Let’s put the pressure on them.”
Island bars package a loophole
In the meantime, several bars on Anna Maria Island found a loophole to reopen because their 4COP licenses allow them to sell packaged food.
“The DBPR’s updated order took away the requirement that 50% or more of sales had to come from food,” Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer said. “So it changed it so that, if you sell food at all, you can reopen your bar.”
The Anchor Inn, 3007 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, reopened July 16 with packaged food. Co-owner Darla Tingler declined to comment during a July 24 call from The Islander as to how the loophole was discovered.
Tommy Knockers, 111 Seventh St. N., Bradenton Beach, reopened with packaged food later the same day. Tommy Knockers employees did not respond to a July 24 call from The Islander.
The Drift In reopened with packaged food July 20. Cuervo previously said he would continue to pursue a lawsuit against the state for monetary damages he already incurred even if his businesses reopened.
“But I’m pleased I can reopen at the moment,” Cuervo said.
The Sports Lounge, 118 Bridge St., Bradenton Beach, reopened July 22 with packaged food and D.Coy Ducks Bar, 5410 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, reopened July 24.
A Sports Lounge employee declined to comment during a July 24 call from The Islander. Likewise, D.Coy’s employees did not respond to a July 24.
Tokajer said he was happy to see business return to local bars.
“The two bars that we had were both doing things the right way. They were both practicing social distancing and keeping to the 50% occupancy limit,” Tokajer said. “I think it’s a good thing they were able to open up.”
“The problem was not with our little mom-and-pop bars that hold less than 100 people. The problem was with the nightclubs that hold hundreds to thousands of people,” he continued.
County revises vacation rental rules
Manatee County has changed vacation rental regulations during the pandemic to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
County officials updated the plan July 8, adding occupancy limits and allowing international travel except from countries gripped by COVID-19.
Previously, vacation rentals were prohibited for international travelers.
No more than 10 guests are permitted within a vacation rental unit under the county’s revised plan and city ordinances also can limit occupancy.
The updated plan allows travel from “high risk” states, however, vacationers from such areas must stay longer than the 14-day quarantine established by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive orders, which all guests from “high risk” areas must follow.
The plan can be found at mymanatee.org.
— Ryan Paice