Will three Tampa bars lose liquor rights for coronavirus violations?

City Council has the power to suspend or revoke the ability of offenders to serve alcohol.
Crowds gather on 7th Avenue as they celebrate New Years Eve at nightclubs and restaurants in Ybor City.
Crowds gather on 7th Avenue as they celebrate New Years Eve at nightclubs and restaurants in Ybor City. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Jan. 6, 2021|Updated Jan. 6, 2021

TAMPA — Requiring patrons to wear masks, socially distance and remain seated is no easy task for bar owners.

But three businesses that have been cited twice for violating those coronavirus restrictions are now headed to City Council, to plead that their ability to serve booze not be suspended — or completely stripped away.

The popular SoHo watering hole, MacDinton’s, 405 S. Howard Ave., and two Ybor City establishments, Tangra, 1611 E. 7th Ave., and Ybor Cigars Plus, 1725 E. 7th Ave, will be required to go before council members, which, under city code, have the final say over the sale of alcohol on business premises.

Hearings can’t be scheduled before 30 days after the City Clerk sends notices to the business owners.

A phone message left at MacDinton’s wasn’t immediately returned. The owner of Ybor Cigars Plus declined comment. And no one answered the phone at Tangra. That establishment’s voice mailbox was full.

Mayor Jane Castor announced the latest escalation against violators in an early Wednesday news release, which outline a new policy to pursue suspensions or revocations for businesses with two or more violations.

“Over the last several months, we have erred on the side of education and encouragement while relying heavily on the responsibility of our residents to help pull us out of this pandemic and come back stronger than ever. And while the vast majority of our businesses and residents are acting responsibly, we can’t allow a few bad actors to compromise and lengthen the recovery efforts for an entire community,” Castor said.

The city has conducted a seven-month public education and awareness campaign to spread the word among bar owners, said spokewoman Ashley Bauman. The city also recently partnered with Safe & Sound, a national group of restaurant and bar owners that encourage safe business practices.

The threat of pulling liquor licenses comes less than a week after a raucous New Year’s Eve in Ybor City, where packed bars were widely shown in local and social media as flouting the local coronavirus orders. Code inspectors didn’t work that night because they aren’t trained to handle potentially threatening situations, Bauman said.

Since Jan. 1, inspectors have conducted 154 inspections and issued six citations.

An earlier effort in December, after Castor organized a regional effort to crack down on violations, netted a dozen violations.

Related: Castor steps up enforcement of coronavirus violations by Tampa businesses

Council member John Dingfelder said he was pleased that the mayor was taking additional action. He hoped the administration would send the violations quickly to council members, who would then look closely at the evidence to determine the best outcome.

“In the big picture, if these clubs and restaurants are not complying then yes, it’s important from a public safety and public health perspective that we carry through on our enforcement opportunities,” Dingfelder said. “If we’re really going to be serious about enforcement we need to do it in real time to make sure we’re getting the word out.”

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Editor’s Note: This story has been corrected since it was first published. The state of Florida regulates liquor licenses, but the city has the power under city code to suspend or revoke the ability to sell liquor at a particular business location.

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