Southwest Florida bars prepare to reopen amid coronavirus pandemic, but will people return?

Sarajane Sullivan
Naples Daily News

Bars and breweries in Southwest Florida are preparing to reopen Monday and hope customers return.

The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation on Thursday night rescinded the amended executive order that had ordered all bars to shut down as of June 26. The agency said bars and breweries may reopen at 50% capacity.

Some Florida counties, such as Palm Beach and Miami-Dade, have opted to keep bars closed, which has led to some speculation on whether the same will happen in Lee and Collier counties.

In Lee and Collier, at least, the answer is no, according to Public Information Officer Betsy Clayton and Collier County Commissioner Bill McDaniel.

"Nothing like what Palm Beach County is proposing has been or is being considered here," Clayton said. "Lee County Administration doesn’t have a comment on the governor’s announcement of reopening bars."

McDaniel responded that he does not know of any plans to prohibit Collier bars from reopening.

“To my knowledge, no,” McDaniel said. “I know of nothing that our board is doing in regard to the reopening.”

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Marbet Lewis is a lawyer who specializes in alcohol and food regulatory law for Spiritus Law in Miami. She said the DBPR and the the governor's office cannot force counties to open bars, just give them the option to reopen if they wish.

"I think it was the right time to reopen with the social distancing standards, making sure that (bars are) using Plexiglas efficiently to separate unrelated parties and even on the bar, the enhanced cleaning standards," Lewis said. 

"And really enforcing the inspection process and getting agents to go out and really visit these establishments, especially when there's complaints." 

Many bars and breweries have adapted during the shutdown, diversifying their products and partnering with restaurants to sell food and keep their businesses open. 

Amber Cebull, owner of Millennial Brewing Company, said those diversifying efforts have kept her in business, even through a 38% financial loss.

Millennial Brewing Company in downtown Fort Myers is planning to open in October.

"I guess, it's a positive thing because it could be way worse. And you know, I think it hasn't been worse because we're pretty adept at marketing. We're pretty adapted, adding product lines and kind of working within whatever the circumstances are," she said.

"But we were in a position where we were expecting to grow revenue again this year by 30 to 40%. So it's a pretty massive loss from what our expectations were for the year."

So far, she's attained a license to serve CBD drinks, partnered with Arekie, a fusion food truck, to serve food full-time and has subleased a part of the brewery to Flying Eagle Kombucha.

But even with the restrictions lifting Monday, Cebull isn't sure she'll see much of a change in attendance. 

"I don't mean to sound dejected because I'm not dejected. I just know at this point, the way everything's been going, not to get our hopes up about anything," she said. 

"There's been such a devastating impact to like local area bars, that it's like, we just know better by now, you know what I'm saying? You just can't expect too much. Because if we expect too much and are horribly disappointed by it, then, you know, that'll just not be good. But yeah, I mean, it's a move in the right direction. Let's just say that."

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In Collier, Burn by Rocky Patel is set to reopen in The Mercato after a three-month closure.

Stephen Drenth, the cigar bar's director of operations, said he is eager to get the bar up and running again, and that he's expecting a lot of people to show up after months of inquiring when the bar would reopen.

"It looks like a great opportunity for our staff to get back to work and also for us to serve our guests safely," he said.

Humidor manager Jonathan Hidalgo lights up a cigar Thursday, June 5, 2014 at Burn by Rocky Patel, a premiere cigar lounge and bar in Naples, Fla. As the federal government prepares for even tighter regulation of tobacco products, it’s considering whether to cut cigar smokers some slack. The Food and Drug Administration is acting in the face of the rising popularity of electronic cigarettes and concerns over kids getting into the habit known as “vaping." At the same time, the feds question whether certain smokes merit their attention and are seeking public feedback until July 9 on whether to exempt fine cigars. (Corey Perrine/Staff)

There are a number of safety measures the bar will put in place, including following the order for 50% capacity, spacing all seating and bar stools 6-feet apart and limiting the amount of guests allowed in the humidor area. He also said the bar has implemented a seated-service-only rule that will prohibit guests from standing and ordering at the bar.

They'll also enforce the 50% capacity rule with added security at the front door to limit how many people are allowed inside, and require regular sanitizing of all areas and temperature checks for employees.

"We're looking forward to complying with state regulations so that we don't take a step backwards and we can continue with successfully opening businesses in Florida," Drenth said.

Sarajane Sullivan writes about food and restaurants for The News-Press and Naples Daily News. Email her at and find her on Twitter @bysarajane.