Florida sports bar will ask customers to leave if they wear a mask

The owner, who also doesn't allow his staff to wear masks, said he doesn't believe in masks.
/ Source: TODAY

These days, most businesses have a "no mask, no service" policy, but one restaurant in Florida is causing quite a stir after banning masks from its establishment.

On Sept. 11, the owner of Westside Sports Bar and Lounge in West Melbourne, Florida hung a sign up on the front door announcing that masks would be prohibited as of Sept. 15. A Texas bar owner instated a similar policy back in May.

If you intend on wearing a mask in this Florida bar, you'll be asked to leave.Gary Kirby

"No more masks. End this nonsense," the sign reads. "All over the world. We will all stop wearing masks. Just throw that filthy thing away."

In West Melbourne, restaurants and bars aren't required to have mandatory mask policies; they just need to clearly advertise their policy on the front door.

"I don't believe in masks," Gary Kirby, the sports bar's owner told TODAY Food over the phone, adding that he finds face coverings problematic for several reasons. "In the event that law enforcement were to need to use my security cameras, I feel that somebody wearing a mask could impair their ability to do their job."

This came into play recently, he said, when his bar was robbed and the suspect was wearing a mask. So far, the crime has gone unsolved.

Kirby also believes face coverings make it difficult for bartenders to perform several key elements of their role.

"My bartenders need to verify identity. How can you be so sure it's me if I'm wearing a mask? It's also the bartender's responsibility by law to make sure guests aren't being over-served. How can they tell that if they can't see someone's face?" he said.

This is the first week that Kirby started enforcing his "no mask" policy.Gary Kirby

Current CDC guidance recommends that restaurants and bars require cloth face coverings for all staff whenever possible, citing on-site dining with both indoor and outdoor seating in the "highest risk" category if tables aren't distanced and capacity isn't limited.

Since Westside also serves food, the bar has been able to stay open at limited capacity throughout the pandemic, except for when the local government shut down all restaurants temporarily. So far, none of Kirby's employees have come down with coronavirus and he said the restaurant is taking extra safety precautions.

"We social distance, we take extra steps in cleaning and we've been blessed to survive this pandemic so far," he said. "I've had compliance checks by all of the agencies of the state of Florida and we've been compliant."

Inside the sports bar, tables are separated by six feet, gatherings of 10 people or more are prohibited at tables and there are temperature checks at the door.

In the case that one of his employees does contract the virus, Kirby said he will require them to self-quarantine for 14 days and provide two consecutive negative tests before returning to work. He would also test all his employees, including himself, and encourage his customers to do the same via a Facebook announcement.

On Thursday, the bar shared a clip of an interview Kirby did with a local news outlet, and many of its Facebook followers seemed to support the "no mask" policy.

"This is amazing. We will be in soon, gotta support businesses willing to stand up for what they believe during these crazy, stupid times," one customer wrote, while another commented "Thanks for making AMERICA normal again."

The bar's policy also seems to have gained them some new patrons.

"I LOVE THIS!! I have never been to your bar but live around the corner!!! I will be visiting you this weekend!!! This is so encouraging and I wish more businesses would stand up like you!!!" one Facebook user wrote.

Still, some social media users cautioned that the bar's policy could be problematic.

"I can't get over how dumb people are. This place is almost surely going to be a source of multiple super spreader events. Anyone who goes to this bar needs to be extremely careful that they do not interact with their vulnerable friends / family," one wrote.

Others worried that the policy would encourage those who contract the virus to visit the bar and wreak havoc.

"I think you are playing with fire!" one Facebook user wrote. "I was talking to such a person this morning who tested positive at school but is asymptomatic. He was only half-jokingly trying to organize a road trip with some fraternity brothers to your place."

Still, Kirby doesn't plan on changing his policy anytime soon and understands that he might temporarily lose a few customers because of it.

"If you're concerned, stay home and we hope to see you when this is all over. There are no hard feelings; it's jut a policy that we believe in and are sticking to," he said.