Popular Florida bar shuts down day after reopening its doors due to maskless patrons and insufficient social distancing

The Wharf Fort Lauderdale on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. Patrons without masks. Courtesy: South Florida Sun Sentinel – Photo sent in by Sunrise Mayor Mike Ryan

A popular Broward County outdoor bar got the ax from county officials late Saturday night after videos and photos surfaced showing hundreds of maskless patrons in close proximity, ignoring social distancing guidelines.

The Wharf Fort Lauderdale opened its doors for the first time on Nov. 20, since the COVID-19 pandemic forced state businesses to hunker down earlier this year. The outdoor, riverside bar is a popular spot for locals and travelers, and pre-pandemic was accommodating thousands of people on any given weekend.

Photos and video evidence taken on opening weekend showed practically every person in sight without a mask and standing well within the recommended CDC guideline of six-feet.

Courtesy: South Florida Sun Sentinel/ Picture from Sunrise Mayor Mike Ryan

“Someone sent me this photo from a place in Broward — last night,” wrote Sunrise Mayor Mike Ryan in an email to his colleagues, which he shared with CBS News. 

The Wharf was shut down at 11 p.m. on Saturday by county officials after footage surfaced and was ordered to remain shut for an additional 24 hours according to initial reports via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel by Broward Mayor Steve Geller.

“If they’re not making patrons wear masks, they’re leaving us no option other than to shut them down,” said Geller. “Our goal is not to shut down businesses. It’s to get compliance. If we have to shut down businesses that are intentionally violating our laws, maybe that will send a message. They have to obey our orders for the safety of the public.”

Shortly after receiving notice of the additional 24-hour shutdown, management from the bar doubled down and announced on social media that it would stay closed temporarily. 

“Unfortunately, due to the statewide spike in cases and local regulations, we will be temporarily shutting down. We’ll reopen when we’re able to provide the proper experience for you at our beautiful outdoor venue. Stay Safe & Stay tuned!” read the tweet.

Courtesy: @wharfftl

Per Broward County’s emergency guidance, people in public are required to wear facial coverings, unless dining at a restaurant, and are urged to practice social distancing of at least six feet from other people.

Part-owner of The Wharf Fort Lauderdale, Emilio “Emi” Guerra, told the Sun-Sentinel that county code officers issued three citations on separate visits on Saturday afternoon — at 2, 5, and 7 p.m. for violating county guidelines. 

“People don’t just come here to eat,” Guerra said in a statement to the Sun-Sentinel. “They don’t just come here to have a drink. They come here to enjoy the outdoors. They come to see their friends. People want to grab a drink and walk around. We built the Wharf [for customers] to have a certain experience. And with the guidelines and regulations being forced on us, we, unfortunately, have to close down.”

Although citations can be handed out, fines cannot be collected until the state of emergency order issued by Gov. DeSantis in late-September ends. The governor extended the emergency order “indefinitely” in accordance with pandemic related state of emergency orders earlier this week.

“We have every intent to collect those fines as soon as the state of emergency is lifted,” Geller said. “Let me be clear, I don’t want another shutdown. But until a vaccine comes along, the only way to fight this is by wearing masks or shutting down businesses.”

Broward County has a Business Complaint Tracker that monitors all coronavirus-related violations and, as of the publishing of this article, has amassed over 2,100 complaints since the launch of the tracker. 

Bars and restaurants have been devastated by the pandemic this year, and the indefinite closing of the bar is going to affect an estimated 125 employees who depend on the Wharf to make a living wage.

“They’re destroyed. “A lot of these people haven’t worked in eight months. This hurts us mostly because of the effect this is going to have on them. It’s catastrophic for them. It’s just a shame this all happened,” added Guerra.

The Wharf also has a location along the Miami River; as of now, that location is still up and running.

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