Loud, electronic dance music has graced the streets of Midtown once again.
After weeks without much activity, the parking lot on West University Avenue and Northwest 17th Street was filled on Saturday with more than 100 people dancing, laughing and socializing with friends.
Students like Olivia Osborne, a 19-year-old UF biomedical sophomore, said she felt that the gathering was a needed relief after she went into social isolation following the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I like the outdoor idea,” Osborne said. “Everyone is spread out, everyone is seated 6-feet apart. They take the count of how many people are in your group and stuff.”
Several businesses in Midtown reopened for outdoor service. Fat Daddy’s, The Rowdy Reptile and JJ’s Tavern advertised a full bar from 2 p.m. until sunrise, and people were also served food from Relish, PitaPit & Midtown Pizza.
The reopening didn’t last long, however. The outdoor areas were cleaned and closed well before the sun came up thanks to Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe’s announcement on March 11: all restaurants, bars and retail establishments are only allowed to operate between 6 a.m and 9 p.m.
All services were provided strictly under CDC and FDA guidelines, according to J.D. Chester, the owner of several bars in that strip of Midtown. He said he was already warned by police about guidelines set by the city. Police officers parked across the street throughout the event.
“We saw what happened to Mother’s when they weren’t doing the right thing – and we are,” Chester said. “It just scares me.”
Although few patrons were seen wearing masks, all of the employees were. And according to Chester, all tables were set 6-feet apart on Saturday.
To get inside, people had to sign a sheet at the security entrance and wait for a table. Chester said that each table was scrubbed down and disinfected after each group left, and groups were not allowed to move around and interact with other guests once seated.
The only exception to this was if people needed to get up for food, drinks or to use the restroom, Chester said. But people were able to talk to other groups from their seats.
According to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ most recent order for reopening businesses, restaurants can operate at 50 percent capacity, and fewer restrictions apply to outdoor seating. However, indoor bar areas must still remain closed under the order.
According to Chester, opening up business has been a much-needed relief, but he's not sure of how things will be after the event.
"We're on the verge of bankruptcy," he said.
For people like Carly Casey, a recent UF graduate who earned a degree in criminal psychology, Midtown’s bars are one of the best places to socialize. After most businesses were shut down, Casey expressed what it was like returning to one of her favorite bars.
“I’m excited to talk to people again, new people,” she said. “In general, I feel safe.”
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Mayor Lauren Poe made the announcement in March. The Alligator originally reported differently.
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