Crew, The Bar in downtown Crystal River will be closed at least through November due to “economic instability.”
It opened in August 2019 and was billed by owner Lisa Benson as an upscale coffee-wine-beer bar. It replaced the old Burkes of Ireland at 564 N. Citrus Ave.
Benson said the capacity restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic would only allow her to have about 17 people seated inside her place and that makes no economic sense. She suspended operations March 15.
Benson said she will take stock around Thanksgiving and decide if she plans to reopen at all.
“The COVID-19 knocked us down and we were already down,” said Benson, who lives in Texas and had a local manager and five other employees who ran the local establishment. All of them are now out of work, she said.
Benson said she was already facing problems before the pandemic because the city asked her to reconfigure her outside canopy area, which could seat 74 people — three-quarters of the Crew’s occupancy. She said she would have had to invest tens of thousands of dollars to conform to new building code modifications and that doesn’t make sense, she said.
The outdoor canopy section, with a pergola, was a big part of the Crew and without that, it takes away from the whole place, she said.
Frink said Benson had only applied for a temporary six-month permit on the outdoor structure and now she must permit it as a permanent structure and conform to building inspection standards.
“The structure needs to come into compliance with the Florida building code and the fire code,” City Manager Ken Frink said. “We were right in the middle of working with her on that and COVID hit so we backed away,” he said.
Brian Herrmann, city planning director, said the structure started as a pergola but Benson kept adding to it and includes grills.
“We tried really hard to work with her,” he said.
Frink said it’s up to Benson to continue the process. But Benson said she’s already invested half a million dollars into fixing up the old Crew building and doesn’t want to invest more. She’s already dismantled the pergola and all that remains is the steel structure.
Benson said she will take the next five months to figure out the future.
It’s a shame, she said, that it has come to this because Crew, the Bar was becoming well-known as a place that welcomes the LGBT community and others who felt it was a safe haven.
“Bottom line, we were becoming truly and honestly a center for change for the city and the county,” she said.
“I’ve got a huge following,” she added. “People love that place because it’s a social center for the underserved.”