Midtown reopened to dozens of bar-hoppers Friday night, but socially-distanced dance floors, reduced-capacity bars and long waits frustrated students and drove many away.
Bars and restaurants in Midtown and downtown are usually packed with hundreds of students. On Friday, though, downtown bars stayed closed and Midtown spaces opened their doors along with social distancing and mask requirements. After filling up the reduced-capacity bars, students left the lines by 10:30 p.m. and got into Ubers and Lyfts to search for a good time somewhere else.
As of July 2, Alachua County prohibited gatherings of more than 50 people in a space that does not allow for social distancing. Additionally, groups of any number of people not social distancing could be asked to disperse by law enforcement.
In June, bars were allowed to reopen in at 50 percent capacity with groups at least six feet apart.
Businesses like Fat Daddy’s and The Social required masks to enter the buildings. Patrons at Fat Daddy’s were not wearing masks when seated at their tables, which were spaced six feet apart.
There was no visible University Police or Gainesville Police presence on the scene.
Midtown sits directly across from UF dorms and Library West. On-campus parties will not be tolerated in Fall UF Vice President of Student Affairs D’Andra Mull wrote in an email to students.
Almost 11,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Florida as of Sunday, according to the Florida Department of Health.
The lines outside of bars lasted from around 9 p.m. to 10 p.m and had little to no social distancing.
Fat Daddy’s line had markers on the ground spaced six feet apart, but didn’t require individual patrons to stand six feet apart. Instead groups of bar-goers were meant to socially distance using the markers.
Some bars had the option of taking their drinks and food to-go.
The Social packaged its meals in to-go boxes and JJ’s Tavern sold to-go rum buckets.
Claudia Girard, a 20-year-old UF civil engineering junior, waited in the parking lot for her friend to pick up JJ’s to-go rum buckets.
“We don’t wanna be a part of all of that, no way,” she said, referring to the crowd wanting to drink indoors.
Roberto Koeneke, a 34-year-old UF food and research economics graduate student, moved to Gainesville about two weeks ago from Orlando and decided to go out Friday night before his classes started.
It was his first time going to Midtown, and he hoped to meet a few people, even though he planned to keep his blue surgical face mask on the entire night.
Alisha Hoath, a 22-year-old summer FAU art alumna, moved to Gainesville with her boyfriend a few months ago. She said she only took her mask off to take a sip and hopes others out that night would do the same.
Not everyone at Midtown Friday night was searching for a way into the bars.
Destiny Valdez, a 20-year-old UF international studies senior, went to the bar block as part of a group of eight street preachers to talk to the bar patrons about Jesus. She said she’s been preaching in Midtown for about a year.
“Before the pandemic, people were really in your face and all over you. Now it's changed,” she said. “There’s less people, there’s less people around, people are less open to talking.”
Valdez didn’t wear her mask while talking with others, but said she would if they were uncomfortable. She also said preaching and connecting with the party-goers can be more difficult with a mask on.
“We have smiles, we have facial expressions and we want to show that,” she said.
Brandon McKay, a 20-year-old biotechnology junior, closed up the Relish Burger location in Midtown just as his peers were trying to get their nights started. Relish Burger and Pita Pit were both closed by 10 p.m.
McKay said that the restaurant had gotten little business over the summer, but attracted many Friday night. The four employees working that night split almost $300 in tips.
Although Relish Burgers requires everyone to wear a mask in the restaurant, McKay said he fears Midtown bars could be a source of COVID-19 infections.
“I think there’s going to be another outbreak in three weeks and the campus is going to shut down again,” he said.
A group of people wait in line at Midtown to enter “Fat Daddy’s,” a bar in Gainesville on August 28, 2020. This was the bar’s first night reopening for the fall semester.
Lianna Hubbard is a reporter for The Alligator’s Investigative Team. The UF women’s study major began as a freelance reporter three years ago. She founded her community college’s award-winning newspaper before beginning at The Independent Florida Alligator. See an issue in your community or a story at UF? Send tips to her Twitter.