Sadness at Butch’s as bars are closed down

OKEECHOBEE COUNTY — Down southeast of town at 4870 U.S. 441 S.E. flaps a banner beckoning folks to come in and get some down-home music, custom-grilled food, adult libations, fun games and Florida sunshine at Back to Butch’s Bar.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
Part of the St. Paddy’s Day menu — cabbage — was in the skillet Tuesday when the owner heard he’d be closing for 30 days.

Since it’s primarily a tavern, though, and not a restaurant, owner Jeffrey Kennedy said somewhat tearfully on Tuesday — St. Patrick’s Day — he would be forced to shut down in just a few hours due to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s order to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The corned beef and cabbage was already cooking. The establishment regularly has fundraisers for various causes — patrons, staff and friends sell dishes and have auctions and such to help people struggling with the burdens of cancer treatment or other human afflictions, and a big one was set to happen next month. Not anymore.

In a Facebook Live post around 3 p.m., Mr. Kenndy lamented the influence of the national media frenzy over the coronavirus and reported that Florida’s governor had just ordered all bars shut down and restaurants to operate at restricted maximum capacities for the next 30 days.

One of the popular memes being shared far and wide on social media last week said: “Back in my day the only time we started panic buying was when the bartender yelled ‘Last call!’” … and this week it’s …

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
A few among of the patrons and staff gather around Jeff Kennedy for a group photo on the patio at Butch’s on March 17.

“Tonight we were shut down by the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office.

“For this I apologize.

“We will reopen as soon as our corrupt government allows us to.

“Thank you for your patience and true understanding of what small business entrepreneurs are going through.”

That’s what Mr. Kennedy posted after 9 in the evening March 17. He’d given a short speech to his fans and customers on Facebook in midafternoon:

“Today is a very hard day for me. Our governor is shutting down all bars and restaurants at 5 p.m. What has America come to when the media controls how we feel?”

He drew a deep breath and swore about the government response. “This is true (expletive).”

He said he personally would be all right financially but, slowly, continued: “I have six employees that depend on me. I have the best customers that this town could give me. My heart is sad, and my eyes are filled with tears. I think what they’re doing is wrong.”

Trying to keep from shedding those tears, Mr. Kennedy went on: “But I have employees that depend on me, and my heart goes out to them. If you’d like to come up, we have until 5 p.m. today, and I’d like to buy you a beer. And let’s shut this place down with style and grace. I love my customers,” he ended, almost sobbing.

“And I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. And if you’ve got some toilet paper, please drop some off,” he finished.

The bar went on to stay open until later in the evening, when he notified everyone that he’d been served with a shutdown order by the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office.

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