Drinks can start flowing again in Florida’s bars at 12:01am Monday, September 14 — almost six months to the day after the state first banned onsite alcohol service at bars, pubs, and nightclubs. 

“Obviously, I’m elated,” said Rob Chase, owner of Digress Wine in Orlando’s College Park neighborhood, after Thursday night’s announcement on Twitter from Department of Business & Professional Regulation Secretary Halsey Beshears.

“There will of course be a lingering fear of yet another shutdown, but it also seems highly unlikely that the state would go for Round Three,” Chase said in an email.

State regulators briefly allowed bars to serve onsite for three weeks in June but clamped down again as the state’s COVID-19 cases soared, ultimately reaching more than 15,000 in a single day. Several outbreaks were tied to bars where patrons were not following proper safety guidelines. Florida reported 3,650 new cases today.

The new guidelines will allow bars to operate at 50% capacity indoors, including bar service to seated patrons. Outdoor seating and service will be permitted “with appropriate social distancing.”

Mounting frustration

In meetings with state officials over the past few weeks, owners of bars and breweries have complained that Florida’s restaurants have been open and serving drinks since May while their own establishments were effectively shuttered. In recent weeks, many bars have applied for kitchen licenses and started serving food as a way to resume onsite service and keep themselves afloat.

Chase had planned to follow suit at Digress but says he’s relieved he won’t have to do that now.

“I feel for the people that did go through all of the work to build out a kitchen, only to have this ban lifted shortly thereafter,” he said.

Bars were allowed to sell drinks to-go during the onsite service ban, and many wine bars continued to sell their bottles retail, but the loss of on-premises consumption was a major blow to their bottom lines. For them, the lifting of restrictions comes as a huge relief.

“This means a beginning to a return of 50% of my lost revenue – and quite frankly the timing could not be better. We all desperately need this,” said Chase. “Perhaps some celebratory sales and tastings are to follow!!”

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