State regulators have suspended the alcoholic beverage license for Tampa’s Pegasus Lounge after authorities say the bar and nightclub violated Florida’s current coronavirus order.
On Tuesday afternoon, Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation sent a series of news releases announcing the emergency suspension of alcoholic beverage licenses at several businesses throughout the state, including places in Tampa, Orlando, Tallahassee and Estero.
According to the notices sent out, the bars cited will lose their licenses “effective immediately until further administrative proceedings.”
“This emergency license action is based on a finding that immediate danger to public health, safety, or welfare requires suspension of the license to avoid future harm,” the releases said.
State officials ordered bar owners to suspend drinking at bars on June 26, a response to the spike in coronavirus cases, in particular among younger people. In the initial order, businesses that derived more than 50 percent of their revenue from alcohol sales were not allowed to sell alcohol on-site. An amendment to the same order issued on July 1 stated that bars that are not licensed as food service operations are not allowed to sell alcohol on-site.
According to the emergency suspension filed, state regulators visited the Pegasus Lounge, a nightclub and music venue at 14811 N Florida Ave., on three separate occasions.
On July 31 and Aug. 7, the owners at Pegasus Lounge were given “informational notices,” explaining the current restrictions, DBPR said. Then, on Aug. 8, regulators said that the lounge, which operates as a “standalone bar without food service”, was open and exceeding the 50 percent allowed capacity.
“Additionally, patrons were standing shoulder-to-shoulder while congregating at the bar area being served alcoholic beverages,” regulators wrote. “Social distancing measures were not being enforced. Groups of patrons were also seen in close proximity to one another during a live concert performance.”
Though the suspension paperwork filed says Pegasus Lounge was operating as a bar, not a restaurant, a post on the nightclub’s Facebook page dated Aug. 10 shows a short food menu including items like Frito pies, chili dogs and nacho trays.
Julie Bible, who owns the bar and nightclub, said she was “compliant and within capacity” on all three occasions when DBPR agents visited. Bible also said the first visit, on July 31, was in reference to the club’s new food license and that the visiting agent told her she was doing “a beautiful job.” She said she has been serving food at the bar and club since getting the license last month and has been following all of the recommended guidelines.
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“We were doing temperature checks, we were monitoring the amount of people coming in the door, we were wearing masks, we were selling food and we were socially distancing,” Bible said.
Bible said she was given no warning that the suspension was coming from the agents who visited her business.
“I was within compliance and they agreed,” she said. “So when they showed up yesterday, it was a shock.”
Attorney Richard Blau, the chairman of law firm Gray Robinson’s alcohol beverage and food law department, said losing a liquor license was a “serious matter,” for business owners.
“Liquor licenses are not a right, they are a privilege and the state has great discretion in deciding who gets one,” Blau said.
Bar owners who have their license suspended have one of two options, Blau said: Either admit fault while asking for leniency and promising better behavior or challenging the suspension by seeking judicial relief.
“That’s probably not an easy or inexpensive process to follow,” Blau said. “But if a licensee really does feel like they’ve been set up…they can go to court to get relief from the suspension.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a response from Pegasus Lounge owner Julie Bible.