Tampa Bay LGBTQ bars reopen with safety precautions

ABOVE: City Side Lounge in Tampa, photo via City Side Lounge’s Facebook Page.

TAMPA BAY | LGBTQ and ally bars began reopening June 5 after suspending operations in response to COVID-19.

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced June 3 that statewide measures enacted to slow the spread of the coronavirus would ease. As the state entered the second phase of its reopening plan, bars and other establishments were able to welcome patrons at reduced capacities.

Indoor capacity for bar patrons was limited to 50%, with full capacity outside. DeSantis noted that they were required to serve seated customers only.

Tampa’s City Side Lounge reopened first at 11 a.m. The establishment urged patrons to practice social distancing and proper hygiene, introducing temperature checks and encouraging sick patrons to stay at home.

“On behalf of the entire staff, I personally want to thank everyone who came out last night,” owner James Encke shared afterwards. “It was amazing to see so many of our friends, no that’s not right; OUR FAMILY, once again.”

The bar’s patrons “truly reinforced our motto of ‘Where Good Friends Meet,” he noted.

The Garage on Central Ave. in St. Petersburg reopened at 1 p.m. “Play the jukebox all night long and enjoy the wonderful patio,” the locale shared. “Come and say hi. We miss you!”

Quench Lounge, which utilized much of its closure to “spruce up” its Largo location, followed at 2 p.m. “The bar has been updated and sanitized from top to bottom,” they shared June 4. “We will be following CDC and COVID-19 guidelines to keep you and the staff safe.”

Southern Nights Tampa, which voluntarily closed ahead of the state’s mandatory order, opened its doors at 7 p.m. “We’re thrilled to be welcoming you back,” owners shared. “However, during this unprecedented time, the health of our customers and staff is of utmost importance.”

Southern advised that staff would wear face masks at all times and encouraged customers to do so when they weren’t seated. Proper hygiene and other safety measures were also encouraged.

“We recognize this is a unique moment in history,” they advised, “where we all have a greater responsibility to maintain the health of our community. We ask for your patience and cooperation as we adjust to this new normal.”

Three of Tampa Bay’s other LGBTQ hotspots reopened the following day, Clearwater’s Pro Shop Pub and Tampa’s Cristoph’s and Bradley’s on 7th. Bradley’s advised June 5 that “we are working hard to sanitize the bar for your safety,” adding that “the staff is getting excited as we prepare to reopen.”

In Sarasota, Oasis reflected on what reopening meant for the establishment June 6. Owner Hunter Vance shared that “it amazes me how the community came together to help keep Oasis open,” adding that he would be forever grateful for the support. Read his full remarks below.

St. Petersburg’s Lucky Star Lounge also shared that it would reopen June 10. “Looking forward to seeing you all very soon,” they advised, while other area establishments opted to remain closed. Enigma St. Pete, advising that “your well being is far more important than any profit,” explained that it would reevaluate its plan to reopen in mid-July.

“We want to return to our normal lives as much as you do,” owner Ed Gonzalez shared via social media. “However, as much as we look forward to re-opening, we will not do so until we feel confident that our staff and all of you will be safe! … Until then, please stay safe!!”

The reopenings follow those of Hamburger Mary’s Clearwater and Punky’s Bar and Grill, restaurants which were able to welcome guests during phase one of Florida’s reopening plan. Watermark also reached out to Ybor’s Honey Pot, which planned to reopen June 12 but ultimately postponed. A new reopening date has not been announced at this time.

As of June 8, the Florida Dept. of Health advises that more than 1,500 Pinellas County residents have contracted COVID-19, resulting in 418 hospitalizations and 95 deaths. In Hillsborough County, more than 2,800 residents have tested positive, resulting in 474 hospitalizations and 91 deaths.

For more information about each establishment, including events, hours and enhanced safety measures, visit their their websites. For the latest updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the LGBTQ community in Tampa Bay, view Watermark’s frequently updated coverage here.

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