If you listen closely, he can be heard muttering about how the rocks glasses don’t look clean enough or how the back wall behind the bar appears too cluttered and unprofessional.
Over the span of more than a decade, the meticulous former bartender has worked his way up to manager and then to owner. What started off as a way to make a little extra money has become his livelihood.
“And the rest you’re looking at,” said Bullitt with a beaming smile. “It’s the American dream, I guess!”
Matty Bullitt tidies up one of his three downtown Orlando bars after being forced to shut his doors for a second time amid the coronavirus pandemic (Robert Sherman, Fox News).
But for the time being, the dream is on hold. There is no ice behind the bar. There is no live music act booked for the evening. And despite Bullitt’s best efforts to get the lounge looking picturesque, there is no plan to welcome any guests.
On June 26, Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation (FDBPR) announced that they are “suspending on-premises consumption of alcohol at bars statewide,” according to a tweet from the organization’s page.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, explained the same day that the move was being made because too many bars had knowingly violated social distancing and capacity guidelines related to coronavirus.
“When people follow the guidelines we’ve not had any problems. You’ve not had any issues,” said DeSantis. “The reason why DVPR took this [action] is because you had people not following it. There’s been widespread noncompliance.”
In recent weeks, Florida has seen a massive surge in coronavirus cases, with more than 20,000 being tallied Independence Day weekend alone.
After the initial coronavirus shutdown ended, Bullitt says he was able to get about three weeks worth of business in at 50 percent capacity. But the new mandate, which applies to all bars that generate over 50 percent of their revenue from alcohol sales, has forced him to shut down each of his three bars.
“It means that we can’t provide for our families, it means we can’t make any money,” said Bullitt. “It means we have to tell our staff they can’t make any money.”
McQueen’s Social Lounge, one of Bullitt’s three bars in Orlando, sits empty amid the bar’s second closure during the pandemic (Robert Sherman, Fox News)
While Bullitt says he and his staff have taken all the necessary precautions, not everyone in his industry has. Videos have surfaced around the country showing packed venues amid the pandemic, and DeSantis contends that officials have seen similar issues in the sunshine state.
Fox 35 in Orlando reports that the FDBPR pulled a local pub’s liquor license after discovering “flagrant violations,” regarding enforcement of coronavirus safety measures.
“I think it’s unfortunate that there’s always just a few people who don’t obey the rules that can make it hard for everybody,” Carol Dover, the CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, told Fox News. She notes that she has seen firsthand several bars and restaurants ignore the state’s safety guidelines, though the far majority have been compliant.
As a result of the on-site alcohol consumption ban, Dover believes that the industry will suffer greatly and will have to rely on alcohol-to-go sales and “creative” promotions to generate revenue in the interim.
Still, Dover supports the state’s decision for the sake of helping to contain the spread and is cautioning restaurant owners to make sure they are buttoned up on their precautions.
“If [restaurants] don’t think they’re going to find themselves in the same position if these numbers keep going up, they’re wrong,” said Dover. “They have got to obey the rules.”
Due to the spread of COVID-19, the mayor of Miami-Dade County, Carlos A. Gimenez, announced that restaurants will have to revert back to takeout only and close their dining rooms.
Dr. Jay Wolfson, senior associate dean for health policy and practice at the Morsani College of Medicine at the University of South Florida, says bars that ignore social distancing and capacity guidelines create the consummate environment for the spread of coronavirus.
“The closer you are to more people over a long period of time especially in a close setting, the greater the likelihood the virus can be transmitted,” explained Wolfson. “It’s just the way it works.”
Wolfson, who acknowledges that such mandates can have serious consequences on business and mental health, believes the state has made the right decision.
“This has been a horror story,” said Wolfson. “And the only way we can get out of it is by being vigilant and responsible. In the meantime, there’s going to be collateral damage. It’s going to be painful. And then as a community, [we must] work together to help each other out.”
“We all want to go out, and bars are a great place to socialize, but a lot of our behaviors, at least for the short term until we learn more about [this disease] are going to have to be subject to discipline — the discipline of being good citizens, and recognizing there’s a lot we don’t know.”
For the time being, Wolfson stressed the importance of wearing a mask while in public as a part of a “social contract” to protect fellow members of the community.
Bullitt, on the other hand, understands that some bar owners have been reckless but believes it’s wrong to punish those who have followed the rules.
“In all industries, there’s going to be a few bad apples. But, that’s no reason to shut the entire industry down,” said Bullitt. “You would think that the proper steps would be to find the culprits, find who’s breaking the guidelines, and shut them down individually. But to paint that broad stroke among everybody just isn’t fair.”
Between each of his three locations, Bullitt says he has more than 60 full- and part-time employees who are being impacted by the shutdown. At this time, he has no idea when he’ll be able to get back up and running.
“We’re told that we can’t operate at all and we have absolutely no answers as to what the future holds. So, we can’t tell our staff when they can come back to work or when they can start making some money again,” said Bullitt. “The unknown is the worst part of it all.”