Late last week, the state suspended onsite consumption of alcohol at bars. The decision came days after a bar near the University of Central Florida had its liquor license temporarily suspended after health officials linked it to more than 150 coronavirus cases.
If you’ve been out in downtown Punta Gorda during the state’s reopening, you might have wondered if any bars or restaurants here could face the same, as some seem to be following social distancing guidelines much more carefully than others.
But, according to the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office, only a handful of businesses have received warnings about not following executive orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and several of those were related to restrictions on bars being open — not strictly about social distancing concerns.
A list provided by CCSO included 15 calls related to executive order violations. Businesses listed include Beavers Bar, White Rabbit Saloon, Veteran Billiards, The Waverly Bar, Lime Tequila, The End Zone, New Faull Inn, All Star Sports & Grill, O’Keef Hair Salon, Shamrock Shores HOA, and three calls to rental homes.
Some of the reports were the result of anonymous tips and were closed after deputies responded to the businesses and observed no violations. Others seemed to arise from confusion over the governor’s orders.
A tip regarding Veterans Boulevard on March 28 alerted CCSO to the establishment allegedly serving alcohol and hosting a large gathering, after the governor ordered all bars to suspend the sale of alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises.
According to the incident report, the owner said he misunderstood the order and subsequently complied. He called the sheriff’s office again on March 30 to ask whether he was able to be open, stating alcohol sales make up only about 15% of his business, while the rest is from renting table time on the pool tables.
CCSO said he appeared to be in compliance but that Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco Division and the Department of Business and Professional Regulation are the ones who make determinations on the executive order and the status of his business license, according to the report.
White Rabbit Saloon also had multiple calls in March about being open after bars were ordered to close.
On March 19, a bartender told a CCSO deputy the location does not “sell” alcoholic beverages but takes “donations” in exchange for beer, according to an incident report.
The agency responded for a second complaint on March 22, and the owner reportedly refused to close the business, stating it was a private establishment with membership dues, and she was allowed to be open. Both instances were forwarded to the Department of Business and Professional Regulations for review, according to the reports.
The Punta Gorda Police Department has not issued any formal warnings, nor has the North Port Police Department.
For the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, Spokesperson Kaitlyn Perez said the agency hasn’t had any recent calls related to violations, particularly since the state went into Phase II of reopening.
“We are still proactive in that we are talking to people about social distancing but I imagine we will likely continue to issue ‘warnings’ if we are called to specific locations where there are issues,” she said.