The pent-up need to party is palpable on Las Olas Boulevard.

Curbside pick up is busy at El Camino in Fort Lauderdale

Curbside pick up is busy at El Camino in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday June 20, 2020. Jennifer Lett South Florida Sun Sentinel (Jennifer Lett/Sun Sentinel)

Evenings — especially on weekends — have been seeing large crowds buzzing about the boulevard, dining, drinking, dawdling up and down the roughly 10-12 blocks of Las Olas that are packed with eateries, boutiques and art galleries.

“Las Olas has reopened with a bang,” says Charlie Ladd, a board member of the Las Olas Boulevard Association. “I think Louis Bossi’s and maybe two other restaurants are doing higher volumes than they did on comparable days or weeks last year.”

Ladd, who owns several Las Olas properties including the home of Louis Bossi’s Ristorante Bar Pizzeria, maybe right, despite growing numbers of coronavirus cases.

On Saturday night, Bossi was cramped with diners with every table filled by 8 p.m., both in the main dining room as well as the al fresco cafe seating alongside the sidewalk of Las Olas and the expansive patio in back, where a tent is set up for diners waiting for a table. Inside the restaurant, Plexiglass partitions separate booths. A sign at the hostess stand near the front entrance gives you a QR code that will allow you to read the menu on your smartphone, though a vast majority of patrons opted for the traditional hand-held menus.

The restaurant is loud, perhaps exacerbated by the Plexiglass modifications. The staff all dutifully wear masks and a bouncer type reminds diners to put their masks back on when they leave their table to visit the restrooms or greet latecomers at the door who are joining their party.

Louie Bossi's Ristorante Bar Pizzeri

Louie Bossi’s Ristorante Bar Pizzeri packs a full house in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday June 20. (Jennifer Lett/Sun Sentinel)

The normally packed bar at Bossi’s is off-limits for customers, though. The same holds true for American Social, another Las Olas hot spot a few blocks west of Bossi’s.

With a fraction of the dining tables that Bossi’s has, pre-pandemic American Social clearly put the emphasis on a bar that dominates the long, narrow restaurant. The handful of sidewalk tables and the main dining room were also completely full by 9:30 p.m. Saturday.

But the hostess at the front podium, just past two police officers in tactical gear, informed anyone who was curious that they could, indeed, go to the bar and order a cocktail or a beer. They just couldn’t drink it at the bar. Your spirit would be put in a Styrofoam cup to be spirited back outside, where several maskless people stood alongside American Social in small groups, enjoying their drink like it was a house party.

American Social in Fort Lauderdale

Cops are seen in front of American Social in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday June 20. (Jennifer Lett/Sun Sentinel)

American Social was one of three Las Olas restaurants and nine citywide cited over the weekend for violations of face covering and social distancing rules, such as overcrowding, and patrons congregating at the bar.

In a statement on Tuesday, Mayor Dean Trantalis, citing an increase in positive coronavirus tests, said, “We particularly have received too many complaints about businesses along Las Olas Boulevard and the beach not following these common-sense regulations. There have been extremely large crowds with few people wearing masks.”

American Social responded in an email that it had closed Saturday night and reopened Sunday evening. “We have been working closely with Fort Lauderdale code compliance and are happy to report with minor modifications to our floor plan we are fully compliant.”

Piazza Italia, a restaurant with four distinct spaces, was also cited. Around 10 p.m. Saturday, the restaurant’s “Piazza Room” took on a nightclub vibe, drawing in even more people who had already had dinner and just wanted to let loose a little bit.

As of now, the restaurant is completely booked for dinner this week, according to their website.

Businesses can reopen after 24 hours if the violations have been corrected. Another restaurant, Hollywood Brewing Las Olas, has been cited twice.

Fort Lauderdale spokesman Chaz Adams said in an email, “Code officers are regularly monitoring high traffic areas of the city including the Las Olas Boulevard and Fort Lauderdale Beach corridors during the day, as well as during overnight hours (7 p.m. – 2 a.m.) Wednesday through Saturday. In many cases, verbal warnings are being given to establishments and most immediately comply. Officers continue to monitor the locations to ensure continuous compliance.”

What Saturday night is like on Las Olas

This past Saturday, B Square Burger and Booze, Big City Tavern and Red Door Asian Bistro were also busy, but with more space between tables.

El Camino Fort Lauderdale usually has a small crowd standing on the sidewalk waiting for a table, but they are wedged in fairly tightly because of the street parking and the layout of the restaurant’s entrance.

Restaurants along Las Olas

Restaurants along Las Olas were packed in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday June 20. (Jennifer Lett/Sun Sentinel)

Kilwins Las Olas, an ice-cream parlor and confectionery, does steady business all night long. Kilwins also has a staffer at the door making sure not too many people are inside and that everyone uses the hand sanitizer set up at the entrance.

Farther east on Las Olas, roughly two blocks past the tiny bridge that crosses the Himmarshee Canal, is the bustling, seemingly always-busy Rocco’s Tacos and Tequila Bar. They too have set up a tent behind their valet parking, to expand outdoor seating. Inside, hand sanitizers are placed around the restaurant.

In front, on the sidewalk and scattered in the small parking lot, patrons wait for a table, which is the only way to get to the tequila since patrons are not allowed access to bar according to the COVID-19 provisos handed down by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and adopted by the State of Florida. A few wear masks while waiting.

To mask or not to mask

Ladd says he’s observed that the mask-wearing, social-distancing behavior varies from eatery to eatery, based on what age group the restaurant attracts.

“Lobster Bar, that’s a little older clientele,” he says. “They’re a little more careful, whereas the younger skewed places, they are trying to make sure people don’t get on top of each other. Young people have been pent-up for three months. It’s been a pleasant surprise that they were this excited to be out…at places like [Piazza Italia].”

Though nighttime is bustling, daytime is another matter.

“I think the biggest struggle is with the daytime lunch crowd. We just don’t have 60,000 downtown employees coming into downtown regularly — places like Yolo, Del Friscos that had an advantage with the office employee crowd, [other] places like Offerdahl’s and the smaller sandwich shops,” says Jenni Morejon, the president and CEO Fort Lauderdale Downtown Development Authority.

The Las Olas Boulevard Association has been trying shore up the businesses on the tony street and encourage compliance.

Article Source: South Florida Sun Sentinel
Author: Rod Stafford Hagwood
Published: June 23, 2020 at 5:28pm