ANNA MARIA ISLAND – For Anna Maria Island’s stand-alone bars, St. Patrick’s Day was supposed to be a night of celebration.
Instead, St. Patrick’s Day 2020 became the day Florida’s bars went dark. This took place at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, March 17 as a result of the executive order Gov. Ron DeSantis issued earlier that day.
In an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), DeSantis ordered all non-restaurant-affiliated bars and nightclubs to close at 5 p.m. sharp. Those that didn’t comply faced immediate legal consequences.
The governor’s order closed the Drift In, Sports Lounge and Tommy Knockers in Bradenton Beach, and the Anchor Inn, D Coy Ducks and the Doctor’s Office in Holmes Beach. The city of Anna Maria currently has no stand-alone bars in operation.
The Drift In was very busy during its final hour, and at the outside tiki bar, bartender Sharon Bell worked her final bar shift for the foreseeable future.
“I’ve never seen anything like this. It feels ominous and foreign and awful. This place has been serving liquor 365 days a year since before this was Bridge Street, when that bridge (the Cortez Bridge) was made out of wood,” Bell said.
“People have been really sweet today. They’re concerned and they’re asking if I’m going to be alright. Some of our vacationers are worried about what’s going to happen when they go home and if they’re going to get stuck trying to get home. This is not just here. This is not just Florida. This is our whole nation and it’s scary,” Bell said of the pandemic.
“I have another job, thankfully,” she said of her part-time position in the insurance industry.
Bell said she hadn’t had time yet to form an opinion about the governor’s decision to make bars and nightclubs the first Florida industry to be shut down as a result of the pandemic.
Anna Maria Island Privateer and longtime Drift In patron Tim “Hammer” Thompson said he’d already been to D Coy Ducks and the Anchor Inn and he planned to hit the Sports Lounge too before it closed.
“I gotta get ‘em all in before 5 o’clock,” he said.
Thompson said he felt bad for all the bartenders that would become unemployed at 5 p.m. Using an expletive, he also said he disagreed with the governor’s decision.
“At 5 o’clock on St. Patty’s Day I’m going to be the last pirate standing,” he said before making his way to the Sports Lounge next door.
At exactly 5 p.m., the Drift In and the Sports Lounge closed as ordered and many patrons simply dispersed to the other restaurant bars that remained open.
Anchored for now
Although the front door was already locked at 5:20 p.m., Anchor Inn owner Darla Tingler opened the door to discuss what just happened.
“I understand it, but I don’t think it’s fair that he started with the bars,” she said of the governor’s decision.
Tingler said she didn’t understand how sending her customers to another establishment would help separate people in terms of containing the spread of the coronavirus.
“That’s doesn’t make sense to me. As owners, me and my husband will be OK. My employees, that’s another situation. Brad’s been with us for 18 years,” she said.
Her son, Joey Tingler, said, “I woke up this morning thinking I was going to work and I heard they were shutting us down for the next month. None of us saw this coming and none of us were prepared for something of this magnitude.”
Tingler’s husband, Bobby, said there are many times during the day when there are 10 or less people in the bar – and there might be 20 or so people there when it’s busy.
“You’re going to get way more people in the restaurant bars,” he said.