Underclassmen looking to get down and dirty after dark will find themselves turned away from some of Midtown’s most popular venues, thanks to the establishments’ repeated underage-drinking violations.
The Swamp Restaurant, 1642 W University Ave., and neighboring 101 Cantina, 1632 W University Ave., have been ordered to deny entrance to customers under the age of 21 from 9 p.m. until closing time for 90 days, according to attorney Elizabeth Waratuke, who represented the city in court. The probation began July 1.
Rum Runners, 116 SE First St., is appealing similar orders, with a hearing set for July 22, she said.
The Swamp and 101 Cantina settled their appeals out of court, avoiding harsher sanctions.
Under a city ordinance that went into effect in April 2009, bars and restaurants that incur a certain number of infractions each business quarter are subject to the prohibition. Venues with a capacity of less than 201 can have up to five offenses per quarter, while larger venues can have 10, Waratuke said.
First-time offenders get 90 days, and subsequent infractions incur longer prohibition periods.
The ordinance has a history of controversy. Rob Zeller, owner of the popular Grog House, 1718 W University Ave., unsuccessfully sued the city after his venue was found in violation of the code. Zeller said the ordinance was unfair to bar owners who are fooled by fake IDs.
Now, UF students are getting together to oppose the prohibitions they believe are discriminatory to not only the venue owners, but also to the underage patrons being turned away.
“The Swamp is a restaurant,” said Student Government senator Carly Wilson, who is organizing the student response. “It does sell alcohol, but it also serves food. This is definitely discriminatory against people under the age of 21 simply for being under 21.”
Wilson, along with other members of SG, College Democrats and College Republicans, are holding a meeting to plan a response Tuesday at 6 p.m. on the first floor of the Reitz Union.
“What we need to do is get all the individuals together to oppose this,” Wilson said.
Before the ordinance, there were 915 cases of underage drinking in 2008. In 2009 there were 444, and there have been 324 in 2010 to date, according to Gainesville Police statistics.
“Most bars actually do the right thing by policing themselves,” said GPD Capt. Ed Book. “All the ordinance does is insert itself and establish penalties for these establishments.”
Editor's Note: It was incorrectly reported that the Grog House has incurred too many underage drinking violations which led to owner Rob Zeller sueing the city. These violations never occurred and
Zeller sued the city claiming the ordinance was unconstitutional. Also, venues with a capacity of 201 or less can have up to four violations, not five, and larger venues can have nine.