Bar owners, employees say state unfairly left them out of plans to reopen

A battle is brewing between the state and Florida's bar industry as bar owners and employees demand to be allowed back to work.

Demonstrators lined both sides of Manatee Avenue West in Bradenton Tuesday as more than 100 employees, bar owners, and patrons gathered, hoping to gain support for an industry they say is being unfairly treated.

"We're being treated unfairly. If you're over 21, like my sign says, it shouldn't matter if you're 6-foot away from someone being served by a server who has a mask and gloves. Whether you're drinking a Coke or cocktail, what would be the difference?" bar owner John Russo asked.

For the state, the difference is food. Currently, bars that generate more than 50% of their revenue from alcohol sales must remain closed.

In Pinellas County, breweries are the exception, as long as they have a food truck or restaurant associated with their operation.

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"Super happy to be able to put everyone back to work. It is definitely a lot more laborious. A lot more procedures we have to go through," Mastry's Brewing Company owner Matthew Dahm said.

It might mean more work, but it's well worth it for Dahm if it means getting back to business. Because of his food truck, he can re-open ahead of other bars.

"Breweries are about the social experience and now we have to find a new way to get that social experience across to the customers," Dahm said.

The social experience is something Florida bars want to get back to sooner rather than later.

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"I don't think that anyone has purposely persecuted us, I just don't think they realize the inequity in it," Russo said.

The protest was put on by the Association of Independent Bar Owners of Manatee. Their attorney has drafted a letter to be sent to DeSantis and legislators asking them to allow bars and nightclubs to re-open.

There's also a petition on asking the state to allow them to re-open. So far, there's been no response from the state or Governor DeSantis.