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Tampa, say hello to your legal Sunday morning cocktail. Thanks, Super Bowl

Remnants of so-called “blue laws” allowed no alcohol to be sold until 11 a.m. The big game changed that. Brunch, anyone?
Sunday brunch cocktails are available hours earlier in Tampa, thanks to the Super Bowl.
Sunday brunch cocktails are available hours earlier in Tampa, thanks to the Super Bowl. [ Photo by Noble Crust ]
Published Jan. 28
Updated Jan. 31

Here was the scene on Sunday mornings at certain restaurants in Tampa.

Diners out for brunch hoping to complement their eggs Benedict or biscuits and gravy would order a nice spicy Bloody Mary. A festive mimosa, perhaps.

Sorry, no, they would be told. Not in this town. Not until 11 a.m., anyway.

What?

When you could hop across the bridge to Pinellas County and be served anytime after 8 a.m.?

What is this, a scene from Footloose, the 1984 movie about a town that banned dancing?

Brunch customers would be crestfallen. Annoyed, even.

“Very disappointed every time,” said Ashley Taintor, general manager of Hyde Park’s Daily Eats, which opens Sundays at 8 a.m. “We lost out on a lot of revenue for those three hours.”

At the South Tampa Datz, salt-rimmed glasses with bacon and celery stalks would sit lined up at the bar awaiting that moment when pouring booze turned legal. By 9:30 or 10 a.m., the restaurant would hear from diners “shocked they can’t get a drink,” said John Camisa, project manager and a former bartender.

“And really, what’s the point?” asked Tampa City Council member Guido Maniscalco. “It’s the 21st century.”

Now, disappointed (or at least delayed) Sunday imbibers and restaurateurs can take heart. And also all those football tailgaters, fishing folk and early morning boaters who like to get their beer bought, in the cooler and iced down early.

Emboldened by the Super Bowl about to be played in their backyard, the Tampa City Council recently voted to make it legal to sell booze at sunrise, or more precisely at 7 a.m. on Sundays, the same as the rest of the week. (For the record, they did this even before they knew their hometown Buccaneers would be in it.)

Fans can now stock up on tailgating supplies earlier on Sunday mornings.
Fans can now stock up on tailgating supplies earlier on Sunday mornings.

Those few arbitrary hours on Sunday mornings did seem a tad outdated in an America where even the countrified and family-friendly Cracker Barrel serves beer, wine, and mimosas with your fried apples and hash brown casserole.

It was Maniscalco who called the former booze rule a Footloose law. “That a restaurant has to wait ‘til a certain hour to serve a mimosa I think is silly,” he said.

And also historic.

With that vote disappears the scraps of the old blue laws originally intended to set aside Sundays for religious observation. (It’s said they’re called “blue” for the color of the paper on which they were written.) Tampa’s alcohol-on-Sundays rule was whittled down 18 years ago when the City Council moved the legal sales time from 1 p.m. to 11 a.m. just in time for football season. Yes, football does seem to be a theme here.

Rodney Kite-Powell of the Tampa Bay History Center describes a rich history of blue laws dating back to the 1890s.

“You couldn’t do anything — you certainly couldn’t open a saloon” on Sunday, he said. There are tales of priests and preachers going to baseball games in Ybor City with police in tow because baseball wasn’t allowed on Sundays.

“There were just constant arrests for people violating Sunday blue laws,” said Kite-Powell.

We have evolved. Early pouring in Tampa on Sundays has been legal for a couple of weeks now, and apparently word is out.

“I’ve definitely seen an increase in business on Sunday mornings now,” said Taintor. “People enjoy coming out to have their little Sunday fun day.”

They can toast the Super Bowl for that.