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Pandemic who?

by Elena Troia

After many months of government-mandated closures, Miami’s nightlife is back.

Mask-less people fill a popular bar called Booze Garden. Photo by: Elena Troia

By: Elena Troia

For bartender Andres Gonzalez of Racket, a popular club in the Wynwood Walls, it has been “non-stop” for him and his co-workers, as hundreds of people start to fill up the bars and clubs in the area weekly.

Claudia Rodriguez explains how she feels about the restoration of the Miami nightlife and how not only does it affect her but her family as well, working as a bottle service girl at one of the most popular clubs in Wynwood.

And for some restaurant and bar owners like Jose Estrada, who is more than happy to have his club open again, he expresses how grateful he is to be able to keep his club open and have that Miami charisma back.

Soon after Governor Ron DeSantis lifted restrictions for Miami-Dade County, Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood did not lose any time to re-open restaurants, bars, and clubs at fifty percent capacity – despite rising cases of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think people are tired of staying home and it shows,” said Claudia Rodriguez, a bottle service girl for El Patio Wynwood. “Thousands of people show up during the weekends, wanting to party, forgetting there is even a pandemic going on,” she said.

“Fin de semanas de Diversión”, as Miamians would say, continue with bottomless mimosa brunches, $5 happy hours drinks, and big parties at venues such as Racket, El Patio, Centro, Dirty Rabbit, and much more, filled with mask-less partygoers.

Miami Rules and Regulations

According to the Miami-Dade County emergency order issued by DeSantis and County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez, the fifty percent capacity limits for restaurants, bars, and clubs is in place but as a minimum.

They can also reach the hundred percent capacity by including outdoor table services and dining. Clubs that include dancing must require that masks be worn at all times, except when drinking or eating.

Stickers similar to this are placed all around on the streets in the neighborhood. Photo by: Elena Troia

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people limit their social interactions and large crowd gatherings to reduce the chance of infection of the virus.

And there  is a curfew set out for the county from 12 p.m. to 6 a.m., but Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez has said that, for now, “the curfew will no longer be enforced in the City of Miami.”

Racket 

Wynwood hasn’t quite caught up to the practice of wearing masks, social distancing, and enforcing a curfew.

Located on one of the most populated areas in the Wynwood neighborhood, surrounded by neighboring clubs and restaurants, Racket gets packed on the weekends now more than ever it seems.

“It has been non-stop,” said Andres Gonzalez, a bartender at the bar and lounge called Racket in Wynwood. “Sometimes you can’t even walk through the crowd of people in here,” he said.

For Gonzalez, it has been extra difficult trying to adjust to this lifestyle, knowing he comes home to his wife and kids every night never knowing if he is infected with the virus.

Wynwood neon sign in a popular bar in the neighborhood. Photo by: Elena Troia

“I try to be super cautious, but when there’s that many people coming and going into here, there isn’t much that I can do. And it’s not like I can just work from home, this is our only source of income at the time,” said Gonzalez.

Gonzalez and his family have only been in the United States for three years, but he has been a bartender for almost all his life.

“I grew up around bars and watching my people make drinks, so it was only right to become a bartender,” he said.

It has not always been easy for Gonzalez to find a job here as he has had to jump from gig to gig to try to help his family stay afloat.

Gonzalez explained, “My family is the only reason why I keep showing up, especially in these times, I know it is difficult for everyone.”

Racket has no outdoor seating available and all table and bottle services are located inside the location, despite county regulations, and are still performing at 100% capacity.

El Patio

El Patio is another very heavily populated bar, which has been locals’ favorites for years.

This bar has always had an outdoorsy vibe to it, as most of the tables available for people are in an outside area.

“I think people are tired of staying home and it shows,” said Claudia Rodriguez, a bottle service girl for El Patio. “It is as if nothing has changed,” she said.

Rodriguez explains firsthand how large groups of maskless people just form lines outside surrounding bars and clubs, waiting to be let in.

“We have been busy non-stop these past few weekends,” she said, “Me and my coworkers see all the people and their bare faces and can’t do anything about it.”

The line outside the popular hang-out spot in Wynwood shows crowds of people waiting to get in. Photo by: Elena Troia

Like many clubs and bars in the Wynwood area, there aren’t many employees can do when trying to enforce the rules.

“There’s only so many times we can tell people to wear their masks and social distance from each other. And they still don’t listen,” she said. “It’s hard to think that I can’t do anything about it since this is my job and I am grateful to still have a steady flow of income, which a lot of people lost during this time.”

Like most employees during the first months of the pandemic, Rodriguez was only living off the $1,200 stimulus check that was sent out back in April. And of course, that was not enough.

“It was absolute chaos,” Rodriguez confessed. “I was in full panic mode and even had to ask my parents for money, which is something I hadn’t done since I was a teenager.”

Centro

Centro is another Miami favorite, which has not been around for long.

One of two big known clubs and bars that are located right next to each other, Centro is known for their special themed events year-round.

One of the many advertisements for Centro. Aguardiente is popular alcohol, drank by many Miamians. Photo by: Elena Troia

One of Centro Wynwood’s owners Juan Erstrada recalls his frustration in the beginning months of the nation-wide shutdown.

“That was a hard time for my business,” Erstrada said. “I was so frustrated, not being able to open up my club. And I feel like most business owners around here felt the same way.”

Partiers can only go into the club if they have a reservation for a table and bottle at Centro. Each table is only allowed a max of 6 people per table and they have to purchase a bottle of liquor for the table to be permitted inside.

“We used to just let whoever wanted to come into the club, come in,” he explained. “It has been sad to see it not as packed as it used to be 7 months ago, but at least we are back in business.”

Erstrada explains how people need to have their masks on until they arrive at their table and then are free to take them off. Masks are enforced whenever one leaves their table, either to go to the bathroom or to walk around.

“I have my people looking out and ensuring we are following the CDC guidelines that were set out for clubs,” he said. “We can’t afford to get shut down again.”

Booze Garden 

Right next door to Centro is another bar called Booze Garden, which opened up just a little over a year ago.

This ‘bar-cade’ is filled with arcade-like games that aren’t exactly COVID-19 safe.

“We have over 15 free games for everyone to enjoy,” said bartender Miranda Rincon. “We have some basketball hoops where people can just throw the basketballs in, Pacman, giant Jenga and so much more.”

These games are out in the open and free to any and all guests who go into the bar.

Being such a fairly new place, Rincon was worried when the bar had to close down for a few months back in early March.

Rincon explained, “It was such a huge relief when I could come back to work again. I thought I wouldn’t have this job anymore because we did have to cut down on staff before opening again.”

Booze Garden, like most of the bars, clubs, and restaurants in the neighborhood, are popping with business during the weekends.

“I’m so glad that it’s starting to pick up again here because Miami would be nothing without its usual craziness,” she said laughing.

This piece is from Multiplatform Magazine Reporting Digital Magazine FALL 2020 Issue “Good Trouble – The New Normal.” https://goodtroubleisnormal.wordpress.com/live-music-in-time-of-coronavirus/ 

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