Port Orange Boat Bar finds loophole to open during coronavirus; others remain closed


PORT ORANGE – The cuisine is not exactly the main attraction of the Boat Bar in Port Orange.

Locals frequent the place to drink $ 2 beers, enjoy the camaraderie, and escape the stresses of life. Most don’t normally come to order frozen pizzas, chicken fillets, cheese sticks, and other prepackaged foods from the freezer, heated in a toaster oven. Even the homemade stuff, the slow cooker dishes prepared daily, are not what attracts customers.

Yet food is exactly what is considered the main attraction in the eyes of the state. Owner Tony Annatone recently changed the license from the bar to the restaurant so The Boat can remain open during the coronavirus pandemic.

[READ ALSO: Florida bars, restaurants draw hundreds of complaints over reopening rules, including 11 in Volusia]

[Where to eat: Restaurant openings-closings in Volusia-Flagler]

Prior to the pandemic, The Boat was licensed to serve alcohol in the state of Florida and licensed to serve prepackaged food through the Volusia County Department of Health. All Annatone needed was a state restaurant license, issued by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

To get the restaurant license, Annatone only needed to add a sink for washing hands at the bar, which is what he did. He also chose to install cabinets and new closed counters, although this is not mandatory. He sent the building plan to the state for approval.

“Once you got approved, the board of health came to inspect it to make sure it was okay, then they wrote to me. It took me a week (to get the license),” did he declare.

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The cost of a restaurant license depends on capacity. The boat can seat around 20 people at the bar, plus a dozen more at a few small tables inside. The license cost $ 362.

It may officially be a restaurant now, but Annatone said he does “what I did before”. It’s still really just a bar. People come with the intention of having a drink and maybe ordering food. They don’t come to order food, and maybe order a drink.

The restaurant license is a loophole that benefits some bars, while the vast majority of others in Florida remain closed – including Annatone’s neighbors.

Drive along US 1, called Ridgewood Avenue in this part of town, and you’ll pass lots of little bars that look a lot like The Boat which, yes, looks like a boat hull. These are biker bars, dive bars, veterans clubs, fraternal organizations, and watering holes where locals stop by every day after work. Some catch the eye from the road, like the graffiti-covered Last Resort Bar, while others blend into the background next to their mom and pop store neighbors.

Florida bars have been closed for nearly two months since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. They reopened in early June in phase 2 of Governor Ron DeSantis’ vault. Clever. Clever. Step by step. Plan to reopen the economy, only for DeSantis to shut them down again on June 26 amid a spike in coronavirus cases and bars ‘non-compliance’ with guidelines. The restaurants can however remain open.

Annatone is fighting so that her neighbors can reopen. He and the other owners say their quaint establishments are unlike the big nightclubs in big cities, which can accommodate hundreds on the dance floors. Instead, their bars are filled with “old people who want to sit down and have a beer and enjoy the company of others,” and will follow directions to be able to do so, Annatone said.

He wrote to DeSantis and contacted several media to help his friends open their bars. He also tried to help bars obtain restaurant licenses. He hasn’t gone anywhere so far.

“I was in their position (bar owners) and I would like to see someone stand up for them,” Annatone said.

Each of them has unique obstacles that prevent them from opening.

Al Bulling is the owner of the World Famous Last Resort Bar, infamous for being the place where serial killer Aileen Wuornos was arrested, for 40 years. It serves food in an on-site food truck, but that’s not enough to requalify the place as a restaurant.

“They won’t let me use my food truck (for a restaurant license) because it’s not attached to the building. We could sell packaged food, we could sell prepared foods and T-shirts, ”Bulling said. “You could pay for alcohol, but you couldn’t drink it on the spot. You couldn’t open a bottle of beer.

Ray “Rocky” Siracusa is president of the non-profit association AMVETS Post 911 in Port Orange, a veterans club. It serves alcohol under a state license and food under a license from Volusia County. As it is considered a military social club which mainly serves alcohol, it must remain closed with the bars.

“We have a license for everything, but the military (club membership) is stopping us,” he said.

The timing of the shutdown was particularly difficult for Rich Hurst, who bought Winner’s Pub in Port Orange at the end of January. It closed along with all other non-essential businesses in mid-March, then reopened for a few weeks in June, then was forced to close again.

Nicole Taylor, manager of Winner’s bar, said she had tried to get a restaurant license through DBPR, but financial difficulties and logistical issues prevented her.

“It’s just a trick to get it,” she said. With all the associated costs, it would cost Winner $ 10,000 or $ 15,000 “to even reopen the bar,” Taylor said.

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It is a reality that they all claim to be unfair. Local bar owners say they could operate within the social distancing, sanitation and capacity limits required of other open businesses. Restaurants, hair salons, theme parks, and entertainment venues are currently operating under these requirements.

“People can go to the hairdresser and have someone touch their hair, or go to a restaurant and have food served, but I couldn’t give them a beer without even touching them?” There is something wrong, ”Annatone said.

Mark Slonicki co-owns two bars with his wife, Jill: Mark & ​​Jill’s Village Tavern and Mark’s Sports Pub, in Port Orange and South Daytona, respectively. Slonicki said bars like his can “follow the same CDC guidelines” as restaurants.

“There really is no difference. All of our (customers) go to a restaurant because they also have a bar,” Slonicki said. “Maybe it only takes one drink instead of being unfair to it. us, the bars that don’t serve food. “

Taylor, who has a school-aged child, is puzzled over how schools are treated any differently from bars.

“I’m so confused about how safe it is for kids to go back to school, but not for the same people to go to the same bars they go to every day, and they don’t go anywhere else.” , she said. .

Bar owners are, of course, concerned about the financial challenges of the closure.

“(The state) not only makes a living for many bar owners, but also for other workers who work for us. And then they might want to go to another bar to get a job and now when we reopen we have no more bartenders to reopen, ”Slonicki said.

They also worry about the people they serve, who have lost their social opportunities.

“All these old people who are vets, they have nowhere to go. They’re stuck in their house, you know, that’s not right, ”Annatone said, referring to the AMVETS Post 911 shutdown.

“This lonely person who can’t get into the bar doesn’t want to go to the restaurant, he’s going to come home and be alone,” Slonicki said. “People want to go out and see someone, and they want to hang out and talk a little.”

Another concern is that patrons who regularly visit local bars are mostly low-income residents who don’t want to dine out.

“I have the trailer park next to me, and the locals come here from the trailer park come here and have a drink,” said Bulling, who is the only bartender at The Last Resort.

Annatone has faced challenges with people who can’t smoke in The Boat since it became a restaurant, and people don’t want to order food.

“One day a bartender said to me, ‘Our people want to smoke and drink. That’s all they want to do. They don’t want to eat. And I said, ‘Yeah, but would they rather we were open or closed?’ Because either we are open as a restaurant or we are closed and not doing any business. “

Across the county, the Persimmon Hollow Brewing Company in DeLand reopened as a restaurant in mid-July. The state has allowed the brewery to extend its restaurant license for Neighbors Artisan Taqueria, a restaurant the same owners have across the street, to the tap room, said Robbie Carelli, one of the founders. and brewers.

Persimmon Hollow and The Boat appear to be the only bars in Volusia County to reopen during the pandemic with a restaurant license.

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