TAMPA — It took three votes and two weeks, but the Purple Heart Bar Lounge & Grill won’t face any sanctions for violating city and county coronavirus orders.
The 4-3 decision on whether the Ybor City lounge was putting the community at risk is the latest in a series of hearings by the city that began last month.
So far, two bars have lost their right to sell liquor for three days while another, while found to be in violation, wasn’t penalized.
Several more establishments have hearings scheduled for Monday.
Purple Heart has just opened a few weeks before it was first cited in December. Inspectors cited it again in January. Violations included having employees and patrons standing in the bar area and people not wearing masks.
But a majority of council members said the city’s case was too weak to find the business violated health and sanitation provisions of the city code that are being utilized to suspend alcoholic beverage permits. City officials originally put photos of another bar into evidence. It was also unclear if the bar had received any public education by the city before being cited.
Last month, the City Council deadlocked twice in 3-3 votes over Purple Heart’s fate. Newly-married Luis Viera, on a brief honeymoon, missed those votes, prompting the matter to be continued to Thursday so that Viera could cast the deciding vote.
Viera voted against penalizing Purple Heart, joining Chairman Guido Maniscalco, Bill Carlson and John Dingfelder.
“It’s clear that the owners of Purple Heart may not have acted with perfection,” Viera said. “He certainly wasn’t perfect. But when you operate a bar during the COVID crisis, there are going to be challenges.”
Purple Heart owner Keith Norates made legitimate efforts to comply with the rules, Viera said, including temperature tests, staff educational meetings, buying masks and putting up signs. He also said he wanted the city to avoid “strict liability” or a rigid policy toward violations.
“Where if there’s anybody without a mask and they happen to be found then we’re going to assume all this guilt,” he said.
Council member Orlando Gudes, who represents Ybor City, said it was clear that Purple Heart had violated the restrictions. Whether their ability to sell alcohol should be suspended was another matter, but council members should stay consistent and follow the facts, he said.
Council members Joseph Citro and Charlie Miranda joined Gudes in finding the bar in violation.