Central Florida and Tampa Bay LGBTQ bars, nightclubs share how they’re navigating a COVID-19 world

While the coronavirus pandemic has brought disruption to the economy on multiple fronts, the bar and nightclub industry in particular has taken a sizable hit. On June 26, the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation (DBPR) made the decision to suspend the consumption of alcohol in bars statewide, largely in response to a recent surge in the number of coronavirus cases in Florida.

This comes after Florida’s initial shutdown in March before reopening businesses starting in early June. We caught up with nearly a dozen LGBTQ bars and nightclubs across Central Florida and Tampa Bay to see how they have been coping with this period of turbulence and economic uncertainty.

Watermark reached out to Southern Nights Orlando, Quench Lounge, Cristoph’s, Southern Nights Tampa and The Honey Pot to get their perspectives, but they were either unavailable for comment at the time or declined the opportunity to speak with us.

Barcodes Orlando

Barcodes Orlando has been a fixture of the Orlando nightlife scene for the past 11 years. However, back in March, owner David Schnyer was forced to close his bar. He briefly reopened for three weeks in early June but was forced to shut down again following the issuance of the DBPR mandate. During this time, he has had to lay off his entire staff. Schnyer and his partner Raymond Burton are currently running the Barcodes Orlando store – a gift shop that sells apparel and accessories – as a way to continue generating some form of revenue.

The unprecedented nature of the pandemic and its impact on the economy are not something Schnyer has ever witnessed before during his time of working as an entrepreneur.

“I’ve been self-employed since 1974 … and I’ve never ever seen anything even close to this,” he says. “I’ve been through a lot of recessions and a lot of economic downturns and always been able to come out the other side but with the current business climate for bars, this is very, very, very frightening … The final outcome of however all of this goes is a nightmare.”

And while Schnyer is sympathetic toward government officials because of his own experience as a former city councilman, he also believes that the core issues plaguing the bar industry stem from a lack of informed government leadership, as well as the absence of a consistent standard for safety protocol.

“I don’t think any of our elected officials at the state, federal or county levels really know what to do,” Schnyer says. “I think they’re just all grabbing at the dark and I think that’s evidenced by the different requirements from region to region … Part of the confusion and probably part of the problem is that there are no uniform guidelines going all the way across the state or the country.”

Barcodes has received some funding in the form of government aid. Schnyer applied for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and received less than 25% of the funding he originally requested. These funds went entirely toward covering payroll expenses. He also shared that the fact that he owns the building where Barcodes Orlando operates will ultimately allow him to stay in business, but he acknowledges that most bars are not fortunate enough to have this security.

Schnyer is hopeful that a sense of solidarity will allow people to overcome the challenges imposed by the pandemic.

“We’re all in this thing together, whether you’re a child who can’t go to grade school, an adult who can’t go to work or you’re somebody that needs to go out and have a drink or two at the end of a hard day,” Schnyer says. “I just hope that we all keep our chins up and put our right foot forward and just get through this entire mess, and I hope that our elected officials do what is required of them.”

The Barcodes Orlando store is open Mon.-Sat. from 12 to 5 p.m. For additional updates, visit Barcodes Orlando’s official Facebook page.

The Garage on Central Avenue

The Garage on Central Avenue, a St. Petersburg bar, was opened in 2010 by Rai Persaud, a South American immigrant. Since the statewide closure of bars, Persaud has had to lay off his staff as he finds himself in a state of limbo.

Regulars of St. Pete bar The Garage attend Watermark’s annual Swipe Right Party earlier this year. Photo by Dylan Todd

Persaud says that despite adhering to public health measures, this was not enough to keep his business open.

“We moved our tables six feet apart, made sure people wore their masks, thoroughly cleaned the bar, monitored our patrons and used plastic cups,” he says. “We did everything right … just to get a little business and then all of a sudden, they closed us down again.”

Persaud is more than willing to work within the confines of public health measures in order to maintain business. He isn’t concerned with alienating customers who are unwilling to be health conscious.

“I would open with 10 customers or 15 customers to get some business than to get nothing at all,” he says. “I’m willing to work with the restrictions, but I gotta do the right thing. If you don’t want to abide by the restrictions, please do not come here. I don’t need your money; I don’t need your business. I don’t need to go to jail or be deported for not following the restrictions.”

Persaud says The Garage has received some aid from the PPP and stimulus checks that he and his wife have received. However, he also pointed out that these funds are insufficient in covering his expenses in a long-term capacity.

Above all, Persaud just wants to remain in business as long as he has the ability to do so.

“I would like to stay open as long as my health is good,” Persaud says.

For additional updates on The Garage on Central Avenue status, visit its official Facebook page.

Stonewall Orlando

Stonewall Orlando has been in business since 2007. The “all-inclusive LGBTQ bar” has been able to remain open because of its restaurant The Queerky Pickle, but owner Steven Watkins has been forced to postpone the majority of Stonewall’s social events and remove their specials.

The removal of specials has resulted in a significant loss in profit – according to Watkins, Stonewall is currently averaging $600 a day in revenue. Watkins explained that this decision was made with the intention of discouraging patrons from gathering in large crowds, as well as curbing the costs associated with additional staff.

“The reason why we’re not doing any discounts is because we’re not encouraging people to come out,” Watkins says. “If they are coming out, we’re making a safe environment, which requires more staff to do so and somebody at the door at all times to take temperatures.”

Stonewall is taking all the health precautions it can in order to ensure the safety of staff and patrons. All employees are required to wear a face mask during work, while patrons must wear a mask and have their temperature checked prior to entering the establishment. Watkins says they did remove one employee from the schedule when it was discovered his other job didn’t require their employees to wear masks.

Stonewall Bar celebrates Come Out With Pride in 2018, hosting a huge crowd for Pride’s Block Party. Photo by Jeremy Williams

“We didn’t feel it was a risk worth taking,” he says. That employee ended up contracting COVID-19 11 days later and the unnamed business was shut down. “He has come back now after being tested and cleared. Nothing is ever certain, but we’re doing everything in our power not to contribute to the pandemic.”

Stonewall received a little over $27,000 from the PPP, with these funds being allocated toward covering payroll expenses. All in all, Watkins says that he’s doing the best he can with the resources that are available to him and his team.

“We have no choice at this time,” Watkins says. “Anything is better than nothing. We’re just doing the best we can to survive.”

In the long run, Watkins aspires for Stonewall to become an integral part of the LGBTQ bar and nightclub community of Orlando.

“My hope for Stonewall is that it’ll be around forever like Parliament House, which is a staple in the Orlando community, that helps drive business to all the other bars like Savoy, St. Matthew‘s Tavern, Hamburger Mary’s, The Hammered Lamb, Barcodes Orlando, Hank’s and Southern Nights,” Watkins says.

Stonewall Orlando currently hosts a dinner-and-a-movie night every Monday and started holding a TV Guide viewing on July 14, hosted by drag queen Chachita Gift. For additional information on upcoming events, visit Stonewall Orlando’s official Facebook page.

City Side Lounge

Tampa bar City Side Lounge describes itself as a “premier LGBTQIA+ cocktail lounge, where good friends meet.” The bar has been a part of the local queer scene since October 1991. Owner James Encke acquired City Side Lounge in 2013 and since the coronavirus pandemic transformed the landscape of the bar industry, he’s been fighting to keep his business intact.

With the statewide closure of bars, Encke has had to lay off his entire staff twice. According to Encke, the disruption caused by this abrupt upheaval has taken a significant toll mentally.

“One moment you are working … bills are being paid — rent, insurance, utilities, payroll … and a small profit margin to cover next month’s bills, then it’s like the lights have just gone out and the rug from which you are standing on is pulled out from underneath you,” Encke says.

The uninterrupted operation of restaurants despite the recent uptick in coronavirus cases makes Encke feel as though the bar industry has been singled out by state government.

City Side Lounge patrons enjoy the Tampa bar’s outside patio during Watermark Wednesday in 2019. Photo by Ryan Williams-Jent

“It feels as if we are being targeted,” he says. “The state closed the bars to combat COVID-19, yet they keep restaurants open. All the state has done is transfer our customers to another location. The virus does not care if you are in a bar, restaurant, beach, mall or an outside picnic table; if you have a crowd gathered you run the risk of catching it.”

Prior to being shut down for the second time, Encke and his staff employed numerous preventative measures to safeguard the health and well-being of City Side’s patrons.

“Our bartenders, barbacks and cleaning crews worked tirelessly,” Encke says. “Anytime a customer left a table or a counter, my staff worked hard to ensure the area was cleaned and sanitized. We were also taking temperatures of all customers who came in, we ensured our occupancy levels were below the 50% maximum levels and we posted our COVID -19 actions on our web and Facebook pages along with posters. In addition, we ensured we had controlled entry and exit points to make sure that we could maintain an accurate count of customers. Finally, we installed hand sanitizers throughout the building and made sure that all of our bar staff had access to them as well.”

Encke says that patrons responded positively to these changes and appreciated the precautions they were taking.

“They felt safe with us and they thanked us for it,” he says.

Encke says that under the limitations of the current DBPR mandate, it’s virtually impossible for bars and nightclubs to sustain themselves financially.

“It like telling the auto industry that you can stay open and pay all your bills, but you can’t sell cars. It just won’t work,” he says.

Encke is currently in the process of modifying his business model to try and remedy the economic drawbacks of the pandemic. He said that City Side can sell non-alcoholic products such as T-shirts, sodas and juice beverages. He also revealed that he’s working alongside the DBPR to find other viable solutions.

“This second shutdown has been devastating, however, we are looking at other possibilities,” he says.

Encke is also in the initial stages of applying for government aid. He would like to see the state government set aside a series of grants for bars to apply for instead of loans. He also believes it’s the responsibility of state government to extend financial assistance to the bar and nightclub industry.

“This is now a state issue,” he says. “They targeted us as the cause for the increase in COVID-19 and we were not, so damages were done to an entire industry. My mom once told me when I was a little boy that ‘If you go in to a store and you break something, you have to buy it.’ Gov. DeSantis and the DBPR basically came into our stores and broke everything, so ‘You break it, you buy it.’”

Encke views the isolation brought about by the pandemic, coupled with the closure of bars, as placing a unique strain on members of the LGBTQ community, who may visit queer spaces such as City Side Lounge for a sense of community.

“Human beings are social by nature,” Encke says. “We thrive on personal interaction and the diversity of those interactions is what gives us all hope and comfort. Seeing, talking [to] and holding our friends is important: it shows us that we are not alone.”

For additional updates on City Side Lounge, visit its official Facebook page.

The Hammered Lamb

Jason Lambert opened his bar/restaurant The Hammered Lamb in January 2013 in the indie-centric Ivanhoe Village Main Street District of Orlando. Following the onset of the pandemic, the self-described “friendly neighborhood pub” has had to make a number of adjustments to its daily operations in order to remain in business.

All employees are required to wear a face mask while working and this requirement has been extended to patrons visiting the restaurant as well, with the exception of when they are seated at their table to eat. Parties with more than six people are split up into additional tables and some tables have been removed from the outdoor patio area to ensure six-feet distance between parties. The Hammered Lamb’s bloody mary bar has also been revamped with a plexiglass shield and bartender attendant to enforce social distancing and minimize community spread of the virus.

Lambert and his team have taken a strict approach when it comes to holding patrons accountable for upholding their new health practices. The noncompliance of some patrons in adhering to these protective measures has forced The Hammered Lamb to revise its hours of operations. Lambert believes that a state mandate would be useful in navigating this process.

“Overall, most people have been receptive to the new practices, but there’s always a handful that tries to fight the system and they’ve been asked to leave every time,” Lambert says. “The main reason that we started closing at midnight … was because it was just too difficult for our staff … trying to manage and corral late-night guests and keep them following the guidelines. There should be a state mandate for mask-wearing. Every scientist and every smart person in the world is saying that masks prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

In addition to these measures, The Hammered Lamb has enlisted a weekly disinfection service that fogs the entire restaurant with a disinfectant designed to kill the SARS-CoV-2 Coronavirus. They also recently performed an intense deep clean of the restaurant, according to a weekly update posted to their Facebook page.

Although these practices may present a set of additional costs, Lambert says that the health of his employees and patrons takes precedence.

“The budget was thrown out the window a couple months ago,” Lambert says. “We knew that these cleaning services would help keep our staff safer and help keep the community safer … That’s just one more layer of protection for everybody.”

The Hammered Lamb during election night 2018. Photo by Meghan Sweeney

An employee at The Hammered Lamb recently tested positive for COVID-19 and was immediately removed from the restaurant’s schedule. Now, all employees are required to take a nasal swab test and, as of July 10, any employee who has not received their COVID-19 test results will be removed from the work schedule until their status can be confirmed. Lambert says the current plan is to test employees on a monthly basis.

The Hammered Lamb has received aid from the PPP and Lambert says that these funds were crucial in bringing economic stability to the restaurant’s continued operation.

“It kept us open,” Lambert says. “If we hadn’t had that, there’s a real good possibility that we would have shut down and not been able to make it through. For us, the impact of the pandemic happened so quickly and we weren’t really financially prepared for it and the PPP aid kind of carried us through.”

The Hammered Lamb is currently open Mon.-Fri. from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 12 a.m. For additional updates, visit its official website or Facebook page.

Bradley’s on 7th

Located in the GaYBOR District of the Tampa neighborhood Ybor City, the LGBTQ bar Bradley’s on 7th prides itself on its inclusivity, designating itself as the place “where everyone is welcome.” Owner Bradley Nelson shared that prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Bradley’s only closed its doors once in its 11-year history — on Sept. 10, 2017, in observance of Hurricane Irma.

Following the DBPR mandate, Bradley’s has had to shut down completely. Nelson said that the bar’s heavy reliance on the sale of liquor for profit has made it impossible to modify his business model and generate additional revenue. He also doesn’t think that alternatives like selling to-go drinks would be of much benefit.

“I don’t think the profit on that would pay the electric bill,” Nelson says.

Nelson believes that, even in a limited capacity, Bradley’s could manage to survive economically if given the opportunity to reopen again.

“We did well when capacity was limited to 50%,” he says. “Even with the dancefloor closed, people appreciated that we were open again. We could have adjusted and made it work. Once the mask rule was first put in place by the mayor, sales dropped 67%. I wasn’t really surprised, as it was the initial reaction to the mask order and people didn’t know what to think. I was waiting to see what the second weekend under the mask order would be like, but bars were closed down prior to getting to the second weekend. I believe that we could be a viable business and prosper at 50% capacity.”

Nelson applied for financial aid under the CARES Act and described the experience as “one of the most stressful processes he’s been through” because of the application process’s impersonal nature.

“I could write an entire article on the nightmare I went through applying for the benefits, just as my employees had the same experiences with unemployment,” he says. “I never had any human interaction … over the phone, by letter or email prior to receiving the checking deposit for the aid. Nothing. The entire process was literally like fumbling through the dark.”

Nelson is hopeful that Bradley’s and other LGBTQ businesses can endure the difficulties of the pandemic. However, he also acknowledges the looming uncertainty that the current social climate presents.

“I was not expecting a second closure,” Nelson says. “And what happens if we are closed till 2021? I may not have as much control as I once thought. But hopefully myself and all the gay business owners weather this storm through its end.”

For additional updates on Bradley’s on 7th, visit its official website or Facebook page.


Orlando bar Hank’s – aka “the best little bar with the worst reputation” – was opened by Theresa Sullivan and her mother back in 1987. However, in mid-June, Sullivan felt compelled to put a pause on Hank’s 30+-year run out of concern for the safety and well-being of her patrons and employees in light of the recent surge in coronavirus cases.

“Until they get a grip on what’s going on, it’s best just to close the door,” Sullivan says.

Sullivan also shared that during the brief period Hank’s reopened, many patrons were resistant to the enforcement of new public health measures, especially wearing a face mask. Sullivan says that this resistance had a negative economic impact, driving away customers who were wary of getting infected.

“We tried to get them to wear masks, but most of them refused,” Sullivan says. “Our business dropped by half, people just not wanting to even come to the bar. They were just afraid of getting the coronavirus from those that didn’t want to comply.”

Overall, the pandemic has placed a stranglehold on Sullivan’s ability to generate a sustainable profit for Hank’s. Sullivan revealed that even with the brief reopening, Hank’s wasn’t making enough revenue to get by.

“Even when we opened, we weren’t that busy,” Sullivan says. “I was wondering if we should just shut back down because we weren’t making enough to even pay the bills.”

Nearby the property that houses Hank’s, Sullivan has a handful of efficiency apartments, which she rents out to interested tenants. However, the economic fluctuation caused by the pandemic has compromised residents’ ability to pay rent, undermining this supplemental source of revenue as well.

“They have no income coming in and what little bit that they do … they need it to feed themselves,” Sullivan says. “We’re all just trying to work together to keep going.”

Sullivan has not applied for any government aid because of the state of instability Hank’s is currently in. She is reluctant to seek any loans when it’s uncertain if Hank’s will be able to generate the profit necessary to pay them off.

“How am I going to pay this money back if my business is closed?” Sullivan says. “If I’m making half of what I was making before, it’s very difficult.”

In terms of financial assistance, Sullivan plans on reaching out to Hank’s landlord for an adjustment in her rental payments.

“I’m going to … see if he can lower my lease to get me through until things go back to normal or as normal as they can,” she said.

Despite the isolating nature of the pandemic, Sullivan says that the sense of community provided by Hank’s remains, even if it’s taken on a slightly altered form.

“Patrons are reaching out, especially to my bartenders and the guy that does all my advertising,” Sullivan says. “Everybody’s checking on everybody. In that way, I think everybody is supporting everybody the best that they can.”

Sullivan is resolute in keeping Hank’s in business and is hopeful that the development of a COVID-19 vaccine will help in this process of restoration.

“I hope that they find a vaccine for this pandemic and that it’s safe for our patrons to come out and mingle and be amongst each other and socialize like it used to be,” Sullivan says. “We’re kinda riding the train. Hopefully, we’ll come to a destination at some point … and hopefully it’s going to be where we were when this all started. We’ve been there a long time. We’re not ready to quit and give up.”

For additional updates on Hank’s, visit their official website or Facebook page.

Enigma Bar & Lounge

The mission of Enigma Bar & Lounge, located in St. Petersburg, is to provide “the great people of the Tampa Bay area … with an exciting venue that feels like home,” according to the bar’s official website.

However, in June, owner Ed Gonzalez felt compelled to make the hard decision to keep the doors of Enigma closed, even though bars and nightclubs were allowed to reopen at the time.

“Your well-being is far more important than any profit,” a June 3 post from Enigma’s official Facebook page stated.

Gonzalez took into consideration the timeline of the coronavirus pandemic when making his decision and ultimately viewed reopening as potentially jeopardizing the health of patrons and staff, as well as exacerbating the spread of COVID-19.

“It didn’t take a genius to figure out that this is not over,” Gonzalez says. “Opening right now is not going to do anything except expose my employees, expose my customers and add to the spread of COVID-19.”

Gonzalez doesn’t believe that Enigma could operate effectively within the limitations of an ongoing pandemic. He cites the impracticality of wearing a face mask to a bar and the risk associated with patrons who don’t wear masks consistently in such spaces.

“Who’s going to go to a restaurant or a bar and eat or drink with a mask? You can’t,” Gonzalez says. “And the moment you take it off, you’re exposing yourself or you’re exposing the people around you to the virus.”

Enigma staff catches its collective breath after St Pete Pride 2019. Photo courtesy Enigma St. Pete

Gonzalez also referenced the impairment caused by alcohol consumption as an inevitable hindrance in trying to maintain social distancing between patrons.

“You might come in being very responsible and respectful of the guidelines during social distancing before you start drinking but three or four drinks in, your inhibitions are gone,” he says. “Social distancing in a bar, if it’s even possible, is extremely difficult.”

Gonzalez says that the combined funds he’s received from government aid will allow Enigma to remain in business. This aid is currently being allocated to cover services such as cable, internet connectivity and CO2 carbonation. While these services are not being actively used by the bar at the moment, Gonzalez points out that their removal would be far more costly.

“If I cut these services, the companies would take their equipment back and then if we were able to open at whatever time, it might take us months to get them to come out and put the equipment back,” he says. “There’s certain bills you can’t cut out, so we’re just paying those.”

Gonzalez compared the impact of the sharp decline in revenue from remaining closed to opening Enigma for the first time, in that the bar will have to build up its financial stability from scratch when it does reopen.

“When this is over, it’ll kinda be like reopening in the beginning,” he says.

While Gonzalez acknowledges that the social isolation of the pandemic can be mentally unhealthy for most people, he also emphasizes that it can be particularly distressing for employees of the bar and nightclub industry, who are accustomed to frequent interaction with others.

“The norm for us is to constantly be around a lot of people in a very social atmosphere,” Gonzalez says. “This is a dramatic change to our lifestyle and what we know.”

Apart from being able to reopen safely, Gonzalez wants to successfully reassemble the personnel at Enigma. However, he also recognizes that the uncertainty of the pandemic’s trajectory — and the economic instability it brings — may complicate the realization of this ideal.

“More important than anything, I really want to be able to reopen with my entire staff intact,” he says. “Will I be able to expect them to hold on for another year? I don’t know.”

For additional updates on Enigma Bar & Lounge, visit its official Facebook page.

Parliament House

Parliament House is a central feature of queer nightlife in Orlando. The LGBTQ bar, club and hotel has been in business for 45 years and was named the most popular U.S. gay bar in 2019 by the Logo-affiliated LGBTQ news site NewNowNext.

However, according to Parliament House owner Don Granatstein, the restrictiveness of state government mandates in the era of COVID-19 has compromised the core nature of Parliament House’s business model.

LGBTQ bars and clubs are often locations for fundraising events in the community, like Babes in Bonnets (pictured, from 2019) at the Parliament House. Photo by Jake Stevens

“The mandates basically wiped out our business,” Granatstein says. “We’re mainly an entertainment place … When they let us open, we were fine. We put on shows with social distancing, everybody had to wear a mask to get in here … then they closed the bars. It’s terrible.”

In response to the restrictions necessitated by the pandemic, Parliament House has made several modifications to how it conducts its current business operations.

A dine-in table service and to-go orders with food and drink are still available to patrons, though patrons are now required to wear a face mask at all times while inside Parliament House, with the exception of when they are eating or drinking. Granatstein says that patrons have been very compliant with this public health measure, as well as the practice of social distancing.

With regard to personnel, all Parliament House employees have been tested for COVID-19, according to Granatstein. They are also required to wear a face mask while working and have their temperature checked on a daily basis.

Granatstein also shared that there are plans to reincorporate some live entertainment into the sanitized ambience of Parliament House, although the layout of these performances has been adapted to prioritize the health of patrons. A dinner show is currently in the works and on July 19, Orlando drag queen April Fresh will return with her comedy brunch, minus the buffet-style setup.

“The seating’s down to 50%,” Granatstein says. “Each group … is being served. Nobody’s allowed to take any food … Everything is being done to protect everybody’s safety and people will still have to social distance … We’ve got hand sanitizer everywhere, obviously, and our bartenders and servers are not allowed to touch anything.”

The Parliament House hotel, on the other hand, has taken a hit economically in the wake of the pandemic. Granatstein says that the hotel is currently earning 20% of what it normally makes in profit and that this level of revenue is “not survivable.”

Overall, Granatstein says that continuing to operate in such a limited capacity is not a viable solution for the future of Parliament House and points to the current disparity in staffing as an example.

“We’ve got 100 people furloughed and we still have 40-50 employees working and it’s not feasible. That’s the honest truth,” he says.

Granatstein acknowledges that the government aid that Parliament House has received has been vital in keeping his business afloat.

“We wouldn’t have survived without them,” he says. “We’re ready for another aid package.”

In addition to applying for government aid, Parliament House also filed for bankruptcy on July 2, according to a July 6 post on Parliament House’s Facebook page. This is the second time the resort has filed for bankruptcy in six years. However, Granatstein said that the Chapter 11 Reorganization filing has more to do with his desire to renovate Parliament House as a whole, rather than the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Regardless of what conditions he may face, Granatstein is confident in the longevity of his business.

“We’ll be here forever,” he says.

For additional updates on Parliament House, please visit its official website or Facebook page.

Lucky Star Lounge

The St. Petersburg bar Lucky Star Lounge, in business since 2008, has been riding its own streak of luck in the midst of the pandemic, according to one of its managers, Daniel Harris, despite being forced to close down mid-June.

The head of Lucky Star applied for aid from the PPP early on and the funds from this aid were used to pay the bar’s employees during the first shutdown. The bar currently has minimal overhead expenses and many of its employees have been able to find temporary work. Lucky Star also has a liquor store as a sister business and the profit being generated from the store is helping to keep the bar afloat financially during its closure.

For the brief interval Lucky Star reopened, the bar’s seating layout was modified in order to adhere to the required 50% occupancy capacity.

“If you weren’t in a chair, you either had to be on the front patio or the back patio,” Harris says.

Patrons were generally receptive to the practice of social distancing, though Harris pointed out the difficulty of having to constantly manage people’s interactions.

“The downside though is that when you have couples come in and they want to sit together,” Harris says. “They pull a chair next to their partner and then someone walking in off the street will see two people sitting together and they’ll think it’s okay for them to come up to the bar, so you had to kind of police the scene.”

Apart from the PPP, some of the employees from Lucky Star have also received aid from the St. Petersburg Fighting Chance Fund, which awards grants to local small businesses in an effort to provide economic relief from the impact of “local COVID-19 orders.”

Harris believes that the isolating nature of the coronavirus pandemic has uniquely affected members of the LGBTQ community, who he views as being innately affectionate.

“We are a huggy people,” Harris says. “You go to any bar or any restaurant and there’s a bunch of us, then there are hugs and kisses flying. It’s just in our nature.”

Harris says that the sense of community at Lucky Star serves as a source of motivation for getting through the pandemic.

“For those two weeks we were open, our customers definitely made us realize how much we were missed,” Harris says. “So, that’s nice. We know we have something to look forward to when we get out of this.”

For additional updates on Lucky Star Lounge, visit its official Facebook page.

SAVOY Orlando

SAVOY Orlando has been open since August 2004, with its promise of “always offering something fun to enjoy, seven nights a week, every day of the year.” Since the coronavirus pandemic swept the globe and the recent DBPR mandate shut down Florida bars, the fulfillment of that promise has been notably interrupted.

The bar went from closing at two in the morning every day to now only being open weekday afternoons for the sale of to-go drinks and to small groups who want to use the venue for private parties.

Owner Brandon Llewellyn says that the closure of SAVOY’s bar has had a tremendous impact financially. Although, some profit is being made from to-go drinks, the total earnings from these products are insufficient in covering SAVOY’s expenses.

Savoy staff are masked up in April. Photo courtesy Savoy’s Facebook

“Unfortunately, that does not provide enough revenue to pay the bills,” Llewellyn says.

And while Llewellyn is currently looking into ways to modify SAVOY’s business model, he also acknowledges that such changes are gradual and require the expenditure of resources.

“All of those things take time, licensing and money, so unfortunately for the time being, modifications will have to be put on hold,” he says.

Llewellyn thinks it’s feasible for SAVOY to operate in a limited capacity, due to an outdoor patio area that the bar has that can be expanded to maintain social distancing. Although, ideally he would like to reopen the bar at full capacity, he is also unwilling to compromise the health of staff and patrons in the process.

“I would much rather remain closed for as long as is needed than risk anyone’s health,” Llewellyn says.

Prior to closing, face masks and temperature checks were required from patrons in order to enter SAVOY. Llewellyn says that the majority of patrons were accommodating to this transition.

“Most people just accepted that this is going to be our new ‘normal,’” he says.

For himself, Llewellyn is getting tested for COVID-19 on a biweekly basis and recommends the same approach to his staff. He also conducts temperature checks at the beginning of each employee’s shift: any employee with a temperature above 99.9 is immediately sent home.

Llewellyn believes that many within the LGBTQ community are doubly vulnerable to the isolation of the pandemic, due to the emotional alienation they may already be facing in their own lives. He also views SAVOY as providing a refuge for these individuals.

“Sadly, too many members of the LGBTQ+ community are already isolated from their families,” Llewellyn says. “They do not have the same support system that other people do. For some of the older folks in the LGBTQ+ community, and others that might be lonely for whatever reason — we are their family and support system. Be it SAVOY or wherever bar they patronize, they know the bartenders and other patrons. It may be their primary social activity…It is also our way of checking on them and their well-being.”

With regard to the future of SAVOY, Llewellyn is hopeful that developments within the medical community, as well as people’s firsthand knowledge of living through the pandemic, will help restore a sense of normalcy.

“My hope is that with the medical breakthroughs SAVOY and the rest of society can all resume our lives,” he says. “I think that it is important that we remember and practice what we learned from all of this so to help prevent anything like this from happening again.”

For additional updates on SAVOY Orlando, visit its official website or Facebook page.

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