Bars opening today; cinemas coming soon

Lighthouse Point Bar & Grille bartender Brittany Garinger pours a margarita for a dine-in customer while working the bar/countertop area of the Lake Sumter Landing restaurant Thursday.

Starting today, residents can enjoy their favorite alcoholic beverages inside a bar again.

And coming soon, grabbing a popcorn and watching a movie will be possible at two of the movie theaters in The Villages.

A majority of bars in Florida, including those in restaurants, were able to reopen to the public and operate at 50% capacity today after being closed for weeks because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This comes after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order Wednesday that lets the establishments reopen. The new order is part of DeSantis’ Phase 2 of reopening the state.

Owners of several restaurants such as City Fire and Lighthouse Point Bar & Grille were making plans to reopen bars for restaurant patrons.

“It feels like Christmas,” said Brittany McIntyre, manager at Lighthouse Point Bar & Grille.

Although movie theaters across Florida are now permitted to reopen at 50% capacity, local theaters will take a careful approach. Plans for reopening Lake Sumter Landing’s Old Mill Playhouse and Brownwood’s Barnstorm Theater are underway, but there are a lot of moving parts to consider for a safe and smooth reopening, said Spencer Novak, The Villages director of hospitality, food and beverage.

“We’re working on a plan feverishly right now, but we don’t have a date yet,” Novak said.

And while wineries could open today, several local ones have chosen to wait longer to ensure they are fully ready to welcome back customers.

Dragon Flower Winery, located in Summerfield, doesn’t plan to open until June 13.

Owners Maggie and Dean Gunter are a little nervous about letting people back in so quickly and want to be fully prepared. Even when the winery reopens, there will be limited seating inside, with customers directed to sit outside. Staff also will wear masks and gloves and wipe down the area every time someone uses it, Maggie said.

“We just want to do what’s best for our customers in a way that we can set guidelines that are clear about what we are doing and why,” she said.

To prepare for opening, the Gunters have been bottling, labeling and corking as much wine around the clock to put on the shelves.

Whispering Oaks Winery, which includes a blueberry farm, and eatery in Oxford, also doesn’t plan to open its bar area for some time.

Darryl Siemer, who owns Whispering Oaks with his wife, Erinn, would like to go back to the way business was before, but is choosing to take things slow and asking people to be patient and understanding.

The establishment will maintain what they currently are doing. The eatery is open with limited seating and the blueberry farm is open for picking with social distancing measures in place, but the bar area will remain closed.

The location will still offer curbside pickup of its wines and blueberries in the meantime.

Siemer doesn’t know when he will reopen the bar, but is working to try and utilize the outdoor area of the property more.

“I’m looking at other ways to expand my ability to have people,” he said.

Along with standalone bar locations opening, bars at restaurants also were able to start operating again.

Many bars in Villages restaurants did open today for guests to sit and drink.

Seats at the bars at Pub at the Bowl and McCall’s Tavern were available today. Pub at the Bowl is connected with the bowling alley Fiesta Bowl in Rolling Acres Plaza and McCall’s Tavern is connected with Spanish Springs Lanes in Spanish Springs.

Owner Larry Ducat is glad businesses are able to start operations again.

“I think we need to get back to normal as quick as possible,” he said.

At both bars, patrons will be separated when seated so everyone can practice social distancing. To utilize the bar, guests must be seated.

The bar also will be cleaned regularly.

The bars at City Fire, located in Brownwood and Lake Sumter Landing, have been operating at limited capacity for some time, based on guidelines from local municipalities. The Lake Sumter Landing location was serving drinks from the bar to patrons in the dining room. At the Brownwood restaurant, people were able to sit at the bar, but had to maintain the recommended social distance of 6 feet.

Today, the inside bars at both restaurants are operating at 50% capacity and the outside bars are operating fully, with social distancing being observed. Guests can only sit in groups of 10 or fewer when outside.

Tape marks off where people shouldn’t sit or stand at the bars, and staff wear masks and constantly sanitize high-traffic areas.

Owner Gina Buell is glad things are progressing and bars can open. The recent reopening will help business at the restaurants “tremendously,” she said.

The bar at Lighthouse Point Bar & Grille in Lake Sumter Landing opened today, too, and employees were excited when they heard the news. They rearranged seating to compensate for the bar’s reopening.

With the bar now open, some seats were taken out to ensure people practiced social distancing.

The bar being open also helps with business in the restaurant, and McIntyre is happy to get more sales.

“We’re excited to get things back to normal,” she said.

Staff writer Summer Jarro can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5404, or Senior Writer Kristen Fiore contributed to this report.