The past year has been a challenge for Miami-Dade business owners, who've had to contend with shutdowns and regulation changes as COVID-19 cases have spiked and fallen and spiked again. One of the biggest obstacles for nightclubs, bars, and music venues in particular has been the midnight curfew. In a city notorious for clubs that don't fill up before 1 a.m., venues have struggled to keep the doors open. Several have chosen to remain closed.
So bar and venue owners are breathing a huge — if tentative — sigh of relief, after Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava announced that the midnight curfew, in effect since October, will end on Monday, April 12.
The rolling back of the curfew comes with new, relaxed COVID safety protocols, including the cancellation of the emergency order that prohibited groups of ten or more people from gathering on "a public street, alley, public way, sidewalk, or government facility open to the public."
According to Rachel Johnson, the mayor's communications director, the other big change for businesses is the limit on party sizes at tables, which had previously been set at a maximum of six people per table. Starting Monday, there's no limit on how large a party can be. Tables are still required to be positioned six feet apart, and capacity limits remain at 50 percent unless the bar or restaurant can ensure social distancing and mask-wearing at all times (other than when customers are actively consuming), in which case they can operate at 100 percent capacity.
The amended rules continue to require retail and commercial establishments to provide hand sanitizer to employees and patrons, ensure that customers and employees maintain proper social distancing, and comply with new facial-covering requirements. Under these requirements, people do not have to wear a mask while eating, drinking, or smoking, or if outdoors at a minimum of ten feet apart from any other person.
The policy changes have been greeted with enthusiasm by business owners and operators who have struggled to remain profitable. Larger nightclubs, like E11even and LIV, have remained closed since the first lockdown last March.
Brian Griffiths, the owner of Over Under, opened the doors to his downtown cocktail bar in June 2020 in the midst of the pandemic. Despite the roadblocks, Griffiths and his team have managed to navigate the restrictions, thanks in part to an outdoor seating platform that will stay in place at least until September (and perhaps longer; plans to create a curbless, pedestrian-friendly zone on Flagler Street are expected to be put into action soon).
Griffiths says he and his staff are (cautiously) fired up about the curfew lift but remain concerned that it won't stick.
“The anxiety comes from not knowing what to expect and hoping it will last because we staff up for this. We give more hours to staff and ask for more days from them,” Griffiths explains.
While the bar has done its best to prioritize the safety of patrons and staff alike, the curfew has put a major dent in business.
“For us, having the extra hours means the world of difference," Griffiths says. "The staff are excited too. Midnight is our busiest hour, where they make the most money. Now we’ve been able to add kitchen help because we know we’ll have more money coming in — we hired an extra barback. So the human element is huge.”
The bar will open on Monday, April 12, with a closing time of 2 a.m. on weekdays and 3 a.m on Fridays and Saturdays, with plans to extend them even further in the future. The bar’s table seating will continue to observe social distancing, and patrons who aren't seated will be asked to don a mask.
In Wynwood, Gramps will be taking advantage of the relaxed restrictions. Owner Adam Gersten is optimistic about what this could mean for local bars and venues, telling New Times he feels “the end is in sight” and that hes looking forward to ramping up Gramps’ programming to seven days a week.
“Gramps has the operational muscles to get back into shape. It will be slow and steady," Gersten says. "We’re over a year in the hole, so every dollar we’re not trying to make up for sucks. At the same time, it's worth noting that we have no idea yet what these vague rules actually mean.”
For larger nightlife venues like E11even Miami, this is the news they have been waiting for. The ultra-club has been closed for more than a year, having used the downtime to renovate its multifloor space and add COVID-related safety features.
“The lifting of the curfew is a very positive sign for the hospitality industry, but as Mayor Cava has stated, we're not all clear yet,” Dennis DeGori, CEO of E11even, tells New Times.
DeGori says that if the relaxed guidelines prove successful, the club will hold its grand reopening during the weekend of April 23.
He adds that he and his team have supported the policies that were put in place to tamp down the pandemic.
"We understood that balance that was necessary between public health and the economic needs of our employees to provide for their families," he elaborates. "We respect Mayor Cava's decision to lift the curfew and respect her balanced position that allows for our industry to come back safely and provide a safe and healthy environment for our employees and our guests to enjoy themselves at E11even Miami."
Just across the street stands Club Space, which reopened in October 2020 with modified hours that adhered to the curfew. The club opens at 5 p.m. on Saturday evenings, closes by 11:30 p.m. in time to clear the crowds by midnight, and reopens again at 6 a.m. on Sunday and closing once again at midnight.
Space co-owner David Sinopoli and his partners have tried to take things in stride, but it has proven challenging.
"Some things about it have a blessing, but cutting off our DJ at 11:30 p.m. at Space, right when the party is starting, is a really weird thing," Sinopoli tells New Times. "Especially knowing that we are kicking people out, and they are going to illegal raves for six hours and coming back to us — that has always seemed counterproductive, but we had to follow the law."
Sinopoli says one good thing that has come out of the modified operating hours: Space's Sunday afternoon event, which has turned into a must-attend party. Previously, it was mainly populated by marathon partygoers from the night before.
"Sunday afternoon we're going to keep as a big thing, and the sunset time period is also great," he says.
Sinopoli and his team intend to take it slow despite the curfew rollback.
"Any rash moves could be disruptive to what we've preserved here over the last six months."
Space's current operating model, wherein guests must purchase "dance pods" ahead of their night out, will remain, with plans to reintegrate the dance floor sometime in the near future. The club has yet to decide on its new hours, though Sinopoli says it will definitely be after midnight.
"This is a great step, but we're not going to go for it just because we can," he adds.
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