TAMPA — After Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered restaurants and bars to stop in-person sales in March, a Peruvian eatery on Memorial Highway announced on social media that it was closing temporarily.
“Here at Nazca Bar & Grill we are fully committed to the health and well-being of our customers, staff and their families,” the restaurant said in a March 20 Instagram post, appearing to do its part to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
But on April 30, the drinks at Nazca’s bar were flowing — cash-only sales of alcohol along with edibles for a night of drinks, weed and sex. When authorities arrived, most of the 50 to 70 people inside ran out the back door clutching duffel bags and coolers while others hid in an upstairs storage area where more weed and $10,000 in cash were found.
The state Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco found that a licensee and manager for the business, Eric Alcalde, was operating an illegal marijuana dispensary and allowed a crowd to gather there during the pandemic, flouting the governor’s orders and recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to court documents.
DeSantis recently relaxed the coronavirus restrictions on bars and restaurants.
The state division is seeking permission in Hillsborough Circuit Court to keep the $10,000 cash found at the restaurant, under Florida’s Contraband Forfeiture Act, court documents say.
Alcalde did not respond to requests for comment, including two calls to his cell phone, a voicemail, an email and a Facebook message. The restaurant’s phone number appears to be out of service and its website isn’t working.
Nazca opened in 2017 at 5915 Memorial Hwy, offering Peruvian food and drink specials, according to its Facebook page. On social media, it advertises dishes such as fried yuca and paella as well as karaoke nights and happy hour deals.
A state liquor agent visited Nazca around 6 p.m. April 30 to see if the bar was complying with the governor’s order and found the main entrance of the bar closed, according to court documents. But around back, the agent found 40 to 50 cars in a restaurant parking lot and a line of people entering through the back door. The agent noted that no one was seen leaving with takeout food or drinks.
The agent requested backup from Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. When deputies arrived, they saw people running out of the restaurant. Once the restaurant cleared out, authorities found two bags at the back entrance filled with 19 smaller plastic bags of what they suspected to be cannabis and an assortment of cannabis edibles.
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While authorities knocked on the back entrance, Alcalde went out the front door and was detained. He told authorities to get a search warrant if they wanted to go inside. They told him that because his business has an alcohol license, he was required to let an agent from the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco inside to make sure he was in compliance with beverage laws. Otherwise, he could face arrest.
Alcalde still refused and was arrested. Police took his keys and went inside. They noticed the smell of marijuana throughout the building, according to court documents. The bar was set up with liquor bottles on the counter and cold beer in a cooler.
A dry-erase board said “Cash bar only” and listed alcoholic drinks, french fries, edibles and “infused” tacos for sale. While police searched the bar, two employees and three patrons came down from an upstairs storage area. Several of them told police they hid when they heard someone yell “cops." One man told police he was having sex with another patron, got scared and hid.
In the upstairs storage area, police found more suspected cannabis and $10,000 cash in a black case. Alcalde told police he didn’t know there were drugs inside the restaurant and that the cash wasn’t his.
According to court documents, Alcalde faces a misdemeanor charge of refusing to admit an officer and a warning for violating the state order closing restaurants.