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Key West is unusual ghost town despite Florida reopening bars

Packed bars where customers stood shoulder-to-shoulder to grab a drink now remain mostly empty, save for some cardboard cutouts to enforce social distancing in the once bustling town of Key West, DailyMail.com photos show. 

Bands that were used to having masses of sweaty partiers on the dance floor are now made to play instruments from behind plastic shields to a scattered crowd sitting in chairs, with ‘no dancing’ signs posted nearby. 

And pubs that would normally have thirsty patrons lining up to gain entry on an end of summer night, only have a cluster of groups showing their IDs and face masks at the door. 

It’s an unusual scene for the destination island city, especially after Key West bars were among those in Florida allowed to reopen this week, as some venues have stayed shut since June after the state banned alcohol consumption at bars due to the spread of COVID-19. 

The hard-hit service industry can now operate at half capacity and Key West bars, which had its late night partying cut off at 12am, can stay open again until 4am.

But the eased restrictions still weren’t enough to draw big crowds back out, as on Wednesday and Thursday night when DailyMail.com visited, it was nowhere near pre-Covid numbers. 

Still locals and visitors say they are pleasantly surprised with the size of people out, fearing Key West would be a ghost town, and say they’re happy the resilient city was still lively during the pandemic. 

Packed bars where customers stood shoulder-to-shoulder to grab a drink now remain mostly empty, save for some cardboard cutouts to enforce social distancing in the once bustling town of Key West, DailyMail.com photos show

Packed bars where customers stood shoulder-to-shoulder to grab a drink now remain mostly empty, save for some cardboard cutouts to enforce social distancing in the once bustling town of Key West, DailyMail.com photos show 

Cardboard cutouts of people are placed by the counter of a bar, helping people to respect social distancing in Key West, Florida on September 17, 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic

Cardboard cutouts of people are placed by the counter of a bar, helping people to respect social distancing in Key West, Florida on September 17, 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic

It's an unusual scene for the destination island city, especially after Key West bars were among the ones in Florida allowed to reopen on Monday, as some venues stayed shut since June after the state banned alcohol consumption at bars due to the spread of COVID-19

It’s an unusual scene for the destination island city, especially after Key West bars were among the ones in Florida allowed to reopen on Monday, as some venues stayed shut since June after the state banned alcohol consumption at bars due to the spread of COVID-19 

Mallory Square is seen rather empty just after sunset in Key West, as over 2,000 people tested positive and 152 died on Wednesday across Florida

Mallory Square is seen rather empty just after sunset in Key West, as over 2,000 people tested positive and 152 died on Wednesday across Florida

A band plays with social distance and no dancing at El Meson De Pepe's Restaurant & Bar in Key West

A band plays with social distance and no dancing at El Meson De Pepe’s Restaurant & Bar in Key West

Signs tell patrons the COVID-19 rules at Irish Kevin's Bar And Restaurant in Key West. Some local bars hadn't reopened since Florida banned alcohol consumption at bars on June 26 due to the spread of COVID-19

Signs tell patrons the COVID-19 rules at Irish Kevin’s Bar And Restaurant in Key West. Some local bars hadn’t reopened since Florida banned alcohol consumption at bars on June 26 due to the spread of COVID-19

Patrons wait outside Irish Kevin's Bar And Restaurant in Key West

Patrons wait outside Irish Kevin’s Bar And Restaurant in Key West

Jess Knightly, from Columbia, South Carolina, said she was in town checking on an ill family member but was more than happy to get away from her ‘war-torn’ hometown, due to the pandemic.   

She said: ‘I feel so much more relaxed. I feel like I’m in summer that I happened to miss in South Carolina. I did not get to swim all of the summer, so I had a big problem with that.

‘The vibe here is so melancholy. It’s very relaxed. You have a cesspool of everything and everybody. They all look like they are so happy to not be part of the Covid. We are all wearing our masks, for sure. But everybody is so relaxed.

‘I don’t think it’s touristy, it’s like hallelujah! Here, I feel like I’m on vacation. Finally you can go somewhere and smoke a cigarette and get in the pool.

‘I’m happy to feel this energy, I really am. It’s very lively, it’s very exciting. It’s not overly exciting, we aren’t all ripping off our clothes but it’s exciting. It’s like we are still part of America and we are going to make it through this epidemic.

‘I do think people are being safe because they are covering up until they have to drink or eat. You should be able to have the option, as long as you’re covering up. 

‘Go out and have some fun. Go have a cigarette or not, but live a little still playing by the rules. ‘

Key West, which is in Monroe County, has a mandate in place that anyone over the age of six has to wear a mask while inside shops or restaurants, or face up to a $500 fine. 

The county has a total of 1,800 cases and 22 deaths which is surprisingly low considering Florida has the third highest number of Covid-19 numbers with 674,000 cases and 13,085 deaths.

Patrons fill Irish Kevin's Bar And Restaurant in Key West during the coronavirus pandemic as the band plays behind a plastic shield

Patrons fill Irish Kevin’s Bar And Restaurant in Key West during the coronavirus pandemic as the band plays behind a plastic shield 

Code enforcement officers make sure people are wearing masks in Key West. Monroe County has a mandate in place that anyone over the age of six has to wear a mask while inside shops or restaurants, or face up to a $500 fine

Code enforcement officers make sure people are wearing masks in Key West. Monroe County has a mandate in place that anyone over the age of six has to wear a mask while inside shops or restaurants, or face up to a $500 fine

Couple Steve and Sherry (pictured), from West Palm Beach, drove into town for Steve's 75th birthday, noting the journey down was much busier than they expected. Steve said: 'I thought it was going to be a total ghost town. I didn’t think anyone was going to be here. I was shocked. Traffic coming down and the amount of people in town, I thought it was going to be dead. It’s amazing, it’s wonderful. I feel good for them. I feel terrible about all of those restaurants and store owners'

Couple Steve and Sherry (pictured), from West Palm Beach, drove into town for Steve’s 75th birthday, noting the journey down was much busier than they expected. Steve said: ‘I thought it was going to be a total ghost town. I didn’t think anyone was going to be here. I was shocked. Traffic coming down and the amount of people in town, I thought it was going to be dead. It’s amazing, it’s wonderful. I feel good for them. I feel terrible about all of those restaurants and store owners’

Local Zack has lived in Key West for the past six years and said the only difference with the bars easing restrictions is that people can stay out later

Jess Knightly, from Columbia, South Carolina, said: 'I don’t think it’s touristy, it’s like hallelujah! Here I feel like I’m on vacation. Finally you can go somewhere and smoke a cigarette and get in the pool.'

Jess Knightly (right), from Columbia, South Carolina, said: ‘I don’t think it’s touristy, it’s like hallelujah! Here I feel like I’m on vacation. Finally you can go somewhere and smoke a cigarette and get in the pool.’ Local Zack (left) has lived in Key West for the past six years and said the only difference with the bars easing restrictions is that people can stay out later

Patrons drink and eat inside at Half Shell Raw Bar in Key West

Patrons drink and eat inside at Half Shell Raw Bar in Key West

A band plays with social distance and no dancing at El Meson De Pepe's Restaurant & Bar

A band plays with social distance and no dancing at El Meson De Pepe’s Restaurant & Bar

Pubs that would normally have thirsty patrons lining up to gain entry on a end of summer night, only have a cluster of groups showing their IDs at the door

Pubs that would normally have thirsty patrons lining up to gain entry on a end of summer night, only have a cluster of groups showing their IDs at the door

But the eased restrictions still weren't enough to draw big crowds back, as on Wednesday and Thursday night when DailyMail.com visited, it was nowhere near pre-Covid numbers

But the eased restrictions still weren’t enough to draw big crowds back, as on Wednesday and Thursday night when DailyMail.com visited, it was nowhere near pre-Covid numbers

Couple Steve and Sherry, from West Palm Beach, drove into town for Steve’s 75th birthday, noting the journey down was much busier than they expected. 

Steve said: ‘I thought it was going to be a total ghost town. I didn’t think anyone was going to be here. I was shocked. 

‘Traffic coming down and the amount of people in town, I thought it was going to be dead.

‘It’s amazing, it’s wonderful. I feel good for them. I feel terrible about all of those restaurants and store owners.’

Sherry admitted: ‘It is less crowded than it usually is. This time of the year it’s usually pretty dead, which is one of the reasons we like coming down here. A lot of the restaurants are closed because the locals go away this time of year.’

‘But the bars are open. The music is playing. I’m happy. We’re at the point where I still won’t go into a restaurant, so I’m not going into a bar, but I’ll stand outside and listen to the music.

‘The first thing I did when I thought about coming is checking numbers of Covid and their numbers are so much lower than West Palm Beach, and we thought great. We’ll be able to get away and go somewhere.’

Local Zack has lived in Key West for the past six years and said the only difference with the bars easing restrictions is that people can stay out later.   

He admits it’s ‘more or less’ exciting for locals, explaining: ‘We’re kind of conditioned to go to bed early because we aren’t used to staying up til 4am anymore. It’s kind of a hassle to stay out that late.’

Zack said the food and bar industry was hit hard by the pandemic, saying: ‘I actually lost one of my jobs because the restaurant closed down for good.’

Sherry admitted: 'It is less crowded than it usually is. This time of the year it’s usually pretty dead, which is one of the reasons we like coming down here. A lot of the restaurants are closed because the locals go away this time of year'

Sherry admitted: ‘It is less crowded than it usually is. This time of the year it’s usually pretty dead, which is one of the reasons we like coming down here. A lot of the restaurants are closed because the locals go away this time of year’

Duval Street is seen rather mellow as Key West bars were among the ones in Florida that were allowed to reopen Monday

Duval Street is seen rather mellow as Key West bars were among the ones in Florida that were allowed to reopen Monday

Code enforcement officers make sure people are wearing masks in Key West

Code enforcement officers make sure people are wearing masks in Key West

Locals and visitors say they are pleasantly surprised with the size of people out, fearing Key West would be a ghost town, and say they're happy the resilient city was shouldering the pandemic

Locals and visitors say they are pleasantly surprised with the size of people out, fearing Key West would be a ghost town, and say they’re happy the resilient city was shouldering the pandemic

Zack admits that while it wasn't that busy around town, it's mainly due to the season. Zack said: 'Once Labor Day ended, everyone kind of leaves anyway. Now that [the bars] are open there’s people coming down here but it's no different than the regular September down here'

Zack admits that while it wasn’t that busy around town, it’s mainly due to the season. Zack said: ‘Once Labor Day ended, everyone kind of leaves anyway. Now that [the bars] are open there’s people coming down here but it’s no different than the regular September down here’

Duval Street is seen rather mellow in Key West as over 2,000 people tested positive and 152 died on Wednesday across Florida

Duval Street is seen rather mellow in Key West as over 2,000 people tested positive and 152 died on Wednesday across Florida

Zack, who works as a captain of a boat, said the biggest change since Covid-19 struck, is that since March the island city no longer allows cruise ships to dock there

Zack, who works as a captain of a boat, said the biggest change since Covid-19 struck, is that since March the island city no longer allows cruise ships to dock there

He continued: ‘But thankfully I’m a captain so it didn’t affect me that much. We still work, boats are always moving, but I know a lot of people who struggled because they weren’t getting the numbers they are used to.

‘I know a lot of people who left town, who don’t live here anymore because the rent is astronomical. They can’t afford it, we aren’t working for six months or at least not what we’re used to working. It takes a big toll.’

He admits that while it wasn’t that busy around town, it’s mainly due to the season.   

Zack said: ‘Once Labor Day ended, everyone kind of leaves anyway. Now that [the bars] are open there’s people coming down here but it’s no different than the regular September down here.’

Zack, who works as a captain of a boat, said the biggest change since Covid-19 struck, is that since March the island city no longer allows cruise ships to dock there.  

He said: ‘There is a dramatic impact on the ocean life. Lots of animals are coming back that we haven’t had in awhile – flamingos, manta rays, stuff like that.

‘And it’s a huge impact on tourism in Key West because they aren’t here, they lost I think 60 percent of the money they make from the cruises because they aren’t here.

‘But that being said, I don’t really want them to come back because as a captain on the water I’ve seen a dramatic difference.

‘The muck they stir up affects life in the water, not so much the visibility, because the mud will get inside fish gills and other filter feeders. It’s not good. But other than that, I haven’t seen much impact.’

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