Protests and Public Comments Ignored, First Bars Get Liquor Suspensions

TAMPA, Fla. – Several restaurant/bar venues within Tampa city limits and under the order of the City Council (not the state) came before council members today for violating mask and distancing orders.  If this comes as a surprise, it should not.  

The problems began New Year’s Eve 2020. The threat of pulling and/or suspending liquor licenses came less than a week after a raucous New Year’s Eve in Ybor City, where packed bars were widely shown in local and social media as flouting the local coronavirus orders.

Thirty days were given for response (some establishments are arguing due process) which included Tampa City Council hearings including January 6th and this morning, Feb 22.  

The establishments currently under liquor license suspensions include Tangra, 1611 E. 7th Ave; and Ybor Cigars Plus, 1725 E. 7th Ave.

Purple Heart Bar, 7th+Grove, Ritz Ybor, and Prana Ybor are right around the corner for violation hearings. 

Attorneys for MacDinton’s, 405 S. Howard Ave., also under threat of suspension, has extended its hearing until March 8th. Dozens more are up for review.  

Comments from the public were allowed but necessarily heard as council member Orlando Gude directly questioned council representation about, “Why were public comments even being heard at a hearing for violations?”

It was made clear that today’s hearing was a Tampa City Council Special Call and in the interest of best practices that public comments should be allowed.

Mike Hayes opened his public comments by saying, “The idea that you are just doing your jobs and it is ok to destroy a business — that ‘this is what we’ve been told so we have to do it and that public comments are irrelevant’ is pathetic and a disgrace to our city. This is about control, power, and money.”

Hayes cited a Hillsborough Board of County Commission meetings in July and August of 2020 which lists exemptions of mask-wearing.  Additionally, most commented on the confusion of walking to a table with a mask but taking it off at the table, as well as other confusing and debilitating rules and regulations. 

The suspensions were the first issued by the council since the pandemic began. Nearly a dozen other establishments await hearings next week and early next month.

Regardless of comments and testimonies, council members found that Tangra had violated the city’s coronavirus restrictions in late December  “by allowing patrons to stand in largely unmasked crowds so thick that code inspectors couldn’t walk through them.”

Although they had the right to suspend alcohol sales for up to 30 days, council members voted 4-2 to suspend Tangra’s alcohol beverage permit for three days next month.  Similarly, the council voted 5-1 to accept the settlement by Ybor City Cigars for a three-day suspension. 

“It will send a message to the community. We are still in the middle of a pandemic,” said councilman John Dingfelder.

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