Order Banning On-Premises Alcohol Stuns Bar Owners, Employees


Lakeland bar owners and their employees said they were caught off-guard by today’s announcement that they would have to immediately suspend on-premises consumption of alcohol.

The announcement from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation comes as Florida coronavirus cases continue to rise. Florida reported nearly 9,000 new cases Friday, shattering the previous single-day record. Polk County recorded a new daily high of 209, including 50 from Lakeland.

People who make a livelihood in Lakeland bars are not pleased with the state’s order banning alcohol sales in their establishments, especially since some had just reopened in the last three weeks after being ordered closed in mid-March.

Dan Thumberg, a founder at Swan Brewing, said he was “absolutely shocked” by the state’s decision. He said he could not identify a specific emotion to describe his feelings.

“We’ve got 15 people who work” at the Lake Wire brewery and taproom, Thumberg said. “They have to pay rent, they have to make car payments, they have to buy food. What do we tell them? It’s the most frustrating thing.”

Thumberg said Swan Brewing took coronavirus very seriously. “We did everything they asked” including using outside seating to the fullest extent, he said.

The state order is only for bars, not restaurants that sell alcohol. Restaurants can continue to serve food and alcohol at tables. Bars can sell alcohol for off-premises use.

Kayla Davis, a bartender at the Brass Tap at Lakeside Village, said the things will be tough for both her and her place of employment. 

“We wanted to come back to work,” she said. “Now, things will be day-by-day.”

She is responsible for more than just herself, Davis said. “I’ll do whatever I have to do to get by.”

Craig Morby, a founder of The Yard On Mass, said he was “on the fence” about the state’s order to halt sales at the business.

“We were just starting to ramp up,” Morby said. “We were just hoping to get things back where they were. But no — it’s start all over.”

He said he understood how social distancing wasn’t working at many businesses, But he said the Yard was doing as good with distancing as can be done.

The Yard on Mass on opening day

“We have a fairly big space and much of it is outside,” Morby said.

Henry Tucker, the owner of Southside Package and Lounge, said it’s now just the Southside Package.

“I feel bad. They overreacted,” Tucker said of the state order prohibiting bars from serving drinks on premises. “People just come in here, have a few drinks and leave.”

Gus Palas, whose wife Lisa Lynne Palas owns La La Land, a South Florida Avenue bar, actually sounded upbeat. “You just wake up and do the best you can every day,” he said. 

Palas said the biggest concern he and his wife share is for their employees.

The shutdown is a case of some bars apparently paying for the sins of others, Palas said.“Seeing others doing something irresponsible or illegal is very frustrating.”    

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