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Tallahassee Bar Owners Take Safety Precautions After Executive Order Clears Way For Bars To Reopen

Masked bartender serving a giant beer
Minerva Studio
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Adobe Stock
Masked bartender serving a giant beer during coronavirus pandemic

State officials sounded the foghorn Monday to let bars serve on-premise alcohol again, but for many Florida establishments, it wasn’t much of a change. Bars throughout Leon County have been using a workaround that allowed them to operate as restaurants.

After a state-wide shutdown, bars were allowed to reopen early in June, but that didn’t last long. State officials said too many people were gathering in large groups and weren’t following social distancing guidelines. They limited bars to serving alcohol only for off-premise consumption. Then officials made another change.

“You had to have a food service license and you had to offer food with every transaction whether they took it or not. Just food had to be available," explained Byron Burroughs, founder of Proof Brewing Company.

He says his business already had a restaurant open. That means he didn’t have to close, but he was careful to make sure everyone followed the safety guidelines. Maggie McKeown, the owner of the Blue Tavern, was in a different boat. She didn’t have a restaurant and instead of looking for a workaround, decided to shut down for a while.

"We closed about a day or two before the state-mandated a closure. But I have to admit I did not think it would be this long," said McKeown.

The Blue Tavern in Midtown has been closed since March and when it does reopen McKewon says she’s thinking of going back to outdoor seating only.

"Maybe we’re going back to the old days of a Juke Joint of having it outdoors and limited size, one or two days out the week," said McKeown. "Maybe we’re going back to the roots of blues music. Which is what the whole idea of Blue Tavern was, showcasing and keeping the blues alive."

She says she wants to make sure everyone is safe.

"I have like 1,000 square feet and it’s very very high ceilings but it’s only two doors. I just don’t think the ventilation is, the ventilation is perfectly fine for non-COVID days it’s great," said McKeown. "But just for right now, all the studies say it’s much better to be outdoors."

McKeown agrees operating with only allowing 50% capacity or outdoor seating only and limited hours isn’t sustainable, but she says she’s crossing her fingers it will get her through until things start getting more normal.

For now, McKeown is hoping to open up by the end of October, which falls in line with the fourth anniversary of the bar. For Burroughs at Proof, while he’s been open the majority of the time in some capacity he hopes the opening of all bars will bring in more revenue.

“From a distribution standpoint hopefully that will allow people to begin purchasing our beer on draft," said Burroughs.

Burroughs says patrons of bars must take safety precautions similar to restaurants to make sure they aren’t spreading COVID-19. He plans to limit capacity at his bar bellow the allowed 50% to make sure there’s plenty of space between people.