Some downtown Orlando bars comply with Phase 1 orders, while others reopen using 'loopholes'


The Dapper Duck on Orange Avenue downtown - PHOTO BY ORLANDO WEEKLY
  • Photo by Orlando Weekly
  • The Dapper Duck on Orange Avenue downtown

As Phase 1 of Florida's economic reopening continues, Orlando bars, pubs and nightclubs that earn half their sales or more from alcohol are supposed to remain closed. Some Orlando bars are taking the directive seriously, while others are using self-described loopholes to circumvent the public safety orders.

Gov. Ron DeSantis' executive order states that nightclubs and bars deriving more than 50 percent of gross revenue from the sale of alcoholic beverages "shall continue to suspend the sale of alcoholic beverages for on-premises consumption."

According to the Plan for Florida's Recovery, only during Phase 2 will such establishments be able to reopen, with limits on operating at 50 percent of capacity. The guidelines emphasize "diminished standing room capacity and prioritizing outdoor service." There has been no date set for Phase 2, meaning these places are not allowed to open yet for business as usual.

Although there are some gray areas regarding which venues are able to open and what can be offered on-premise, numerous bars began reopening on May 4, along with restaurants, some of which pointed out these gray areas when the Orlando Police Department showed up at their venues.

Some bars that reopened have adjusted their menus to accommodate the regulations. For example, Shots is not selling alcohol until further notice. Meanwhile, other bars have reopened, selling alcohol for on-premise consumption. Some of those have even been visited by OPD for violations previously, and have been educated by officers on the rules. Nevertheless, a few continue to sell alcohol for on-premise consumption.
On May 4, the OPD found four Orlando bars operating despite DeSantis' Phase 1 executive order. Officers reviewed the guidelines with the venues without issuing citations, and left mangers and owners to make their own decisions whether to continue serving.

Despite these visits, two of the bars continue serving alcohol for on-premise consumption – one has found "loopholes" to remain open and one decided to close until further notice. Other bars that OPD has not visited have since also reopened and are not following DeSantis' and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer's requirements that "in Phase 1, bars are not open for on-premise consumption of alcohol." Picking up alcohol to go is currently allowed, but these bars are seating people who are drinking.

Despite the police visits, on May 7, the Dapper Duck and Downtown Pourhouse Orlando were still serving alcoholic beverages for on-premise consumption, while Swiggs has since suspended alcohol sales, and continues to offer to-go pizza.

"We basically have educated all these owners and I believe the main confusion was the first day of Phase 1 reopening," an OPD public information officer said. "A lot of these bars were not understanding what could open and could not open."

OPD made clear their goal has been to educate, not reprimand, managers and business owners so they may operate in compliance and without further issues.

"No one has been reprimanded or fined or any sort of consequence ... there has been no order to close," the OPD PIO said. "Once education is provided by the officers, it is up to the owners whether to comply with the ... guidelines or they choose to close in the moment and regroup and return to opening."

Despite Dapper Duck and Pourhouse being educated by the OPD, DeSantis and Dryer have stated that the sale of alcohol for on-premises consumption at bars is prohibited, as of May 7, the venues have not adhered to policy.

According to an OPD case report, Officer Vallebuona "observed people sitting at the bar inside the business Pourhouse." Vallebueno spoke to manager Michael Derstine, informing him that if a bar derives 50 percent of its annual income from alcohol sales, alcohol consumption on premise is prohibited. Vallebueno made sure to emphasize that alcohol may be packaged to-go and be consumed off premise.

The report reads that Derstine "understood and will be adhering to the guidelines in the future." It is also stated that Derstine explained that he believed that since Pourhouse sells some food, that they would be allowed to reopen to 25 percent capacity. The venue was not forced to close. On-site alcohol consumption would have to stop, though.

Pourhouse was open and serving alcoholic beverages on premise in plastic cups as of May 7. Employees were also not wearing masks. Although a high-top table near the entrance offered hand sanitizer to employees and customers, social distancing was not being enforced inside the venue. A small group along with a few employees were clustered around a high-top table near the entrance of the venue.

When asked to speak to a manager regarding what Pourhouse was offering to customers, an employee stated, "I am actually not allowed to give any comment to the media."

Next door to Pourhouse, Dapper Duck Bar also did not adhere to the OPD's information.

OPD Officer J. Torres conducted a check on Dapper Duck Bar on May 4 after noting that the venue was not complying with DeSantis' Phase 1 guidelines. Torres spoke to manager Ryan Durr, informing him that the business was not in compliance "due to having several customers inside and outside consuming alcohol on premise." The report reads that Torres educated Durr that since they are a bar, they may not allow for the consumption of alcoholic beverages on premise, but may continue selling food on premise and alcoholic beverages to-go. Durr told Torres that he "would correct the issue immediately."

On May 7, Pourhouse, although following distancing guidelines with employees wearing masks, was selling alcoholic beverages for on-site consumption. A few costumers sat outside enjoying drinks out of plastic cups along with their meal.

When asked to speak to a manager of Dapper Duck, an employee told Orlando Weekly that he had "no comment."

A few minutes' walk down the street, the owners of Swiggs and Stokes Bar opened up the dive bar Fuel Orlando on July 21, 2019, offering only drinks. As of Jan. 4, a Facebook post on Fuel Orlando's public Facebook page advertised their "ALL NEW PIZZAS" along with "some football and drinks."

After the pandemic temporarily shut down all restaurants, Swiggs, Stokes and Fuel also closed. On May 3, the three bars advertised on their Facebook page that they would be open on May 4 from 4:30 to 10:30 p.m. offering pizza, strombolis and garlic knots. Dine-in at 25 percent capacity and takeout was available.

On May 4, Officer J. Torres noted "several people inside and outside drinking alcoholic beverages" at Swiggs. Torres spoke to manager on duty "Shawn," who thought that DeSantis' Phase 1 called for 50 percent food and 50 percent alcohol sales at the venue. Torres educated Shawn that the 50 percent was dependent on annual earnings and since Swiggs is a bar, the venue could not sell alcohol for on premise consumption. The report read that Shawn shut down the bar even though Torres stated that he did not have to.

On May 7, only Fuel was opened for business. The other two attached bars were closed. The venue was only selling pizza to go. Chairs were stacked and no bar seating was available. An employee on site stated that pizzas were made for pick-up only.

The manager stated to OW that he had spoken to the OPD on May 4 and stated that the bar "did not want problems with the city." No employees were wearing masks and no customers were on premise.

Since Fuel does not have a full sale reports from last year, as they opened July 21, the manager stated that the venue may remain open to sell pizzas.

Additionally, after the OPD informed the manager, the venue began closing at 8 p.m. instead of the original advertised time of 10:30 p.m. However, an hour later at 6:51 p.m., Fuel was completely closed.

A few blocks down, the Basement Orlando, which shares a hallway with Jimmy Hula's, has been serving alcohol for on-premise consumption since May 4. Although the OPD has not visited the Basement, an employee stated that since the venues share the same owners and customers may order food from Jimmy Hula's to be served in The Basement, they may continue to remain open and serve alcohol for on-premise consumption.

According to the Basement's website, the venue does not provide any food and has partnered with Jimmy Hula's to provide food. The menu on the Basement's website links to Jimmy Hula's menu. The Basement only promotes its own $4 happy hour from 5-8 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Jimmy Hula's general manager confirmed that all food served at The Basement is from Jimmy Hula's and when asked if the two venues shared the same owner, the general manager simply said, "No comment."
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