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Ocala

Bars that also serve food can reopen under amended emergency order

Bars that also serve food are preparing to open back up thanks to an amended emergency order that was filed Wednesday.

The order allows vendors who are licensed to sell both alcohol and food to remain open as restaurants with 50 percent capacity and proper social distancing and sanitizing measures in place. That means those businesses can serve food and alcoholic beverages for on-premises consumption to customers seated at tables or bar counters.
The order follows one last Friday that effectively closed bars for a second time amid the COVID-19 pandemic. That mandate came after COVID-19 testing showed the majority of new patients are younger asymptomatic adults, many of whom have ignored social distancing guidelines while going out in large groups, Gov. Ron DeSantis said.

The new order, signed by Halsey Beshears, secretary of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, continues to forbid bars and nightclubs from selling alcohol to patrons for on-site consumption. But it makes a huge difference for businesses like Bank Street Patio Bar and The Lodge Ocala, which had been forced to close under the initial order.

On Saturday, a post on Facebook showed the frustration the owners of Bank Street Patio Bar were facing.

“We have always considered ourselves to be a restaurant and through all of this we have complied diligently with social distancing standards imposed on restaurants,” the post read. “However, the state came in and deemed us a ‘bar’ based on their arbitrary metrics. Unfortunately, that forced us to close for now or risk license suspension or revocation. We are deeply saddened by this and are doing what we can to understand and sort this out so we can continue to serve our community.”

On Monday, The Lodge posted a similar Facebook message.

“We asked if we could just keep our kitchen open and serve no alcohol to at least help our staff and they said we would have to close down completely and if were to do any sales, it can only be to go only,” the post reads. “Therefore we are trying to figure out a to-go option to offer, but in the meantime, we will continue to work with the state to try to get through these times and hopefully reopen in a timely manner when we are allowed to do so.”

A Facebook post from Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn, who in May said his city’s police officers wouldn’t enforce rules for businesses to remain open during the Coronavirus pandemic, said it wasn’t the responsibility of his officers to monitor the closing of bars. He also said he had spoken to the “General Counsel” of the Florida Department of Business and Regulation and “restaurant owners will be pleasantly surprised tomorrow.”

Photos in Ocala, Florida

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