Miami Beach Shuts Down Sidewalk Café Operations for Ocean Drive’s Cuba Libre

Ocean Drive

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Miami Beach Shuts Down Sidewalk Café Operations for Ocean Drive’s Cuba Libre:

Restaurant had four violations of code of conduct within preceding 12 months

The City of Miami Beach, in a continued crackdown on “bad operators”, has revoked the sidewalk café permit for Cuba Libre on Ocean Drive. The revocation follows four violations for “hawking” which is prohibited under the City’s Sidewalk Café Code of Conduct. 

The Code of Conduct prohibits “hawking” to bring customers into a café, 2-for-1 specials signs, and deceptive business practices, among other things. While the Code of Conduct is citywide, the no solicitation provision impacts Ocean Drive, Lincoln Road, and Española Way. It went into effect in October 2019.

The revocation came in just under the wire of a “resetting of the clock” on violations when a new, tougher, ordinance took effect on February 6. Under the new law, a sidewalk café permit is revoked after the third violation in the preceding twelve months but because it was applied “prospectively” to future violations, the “penalty clock” was reset “for purposes of implementing the enhanced penalties,” according to a memo from Acting City Attorney Rafael Paz to City Commissioners. That means that one day later, Cuba Libre would have had no strikes against it. Instead, the operator racked up its fourth violation in the preceding twelve months and, under the old law in effect at that time, the café permit was revoked for the remainder of the permit year which currently is running month to month through at least April 1. Normally, permit years run with the City's fiscal year, October 1 through September 30 but with COVID-19 shutdowns and new legislation under consideration, the permit year has remained in flux. The City Commission will consider criteria for renewing the permits at its meeting Wednesday. If passed on first reading, second reading would be March 17 and take effect ten days later. 

All four of the violations leading to Cuba Libre's revocation were for hawking. They were issued November 19 and November 27, 2020, January 15, 2021 and the fourth on February 5. The revocation notice was issued Monday by Interim City Manager Raul Aguila. While hawking has been ruled free speech, the City has taken the position that having a sidewalk café permit to operate on the City’s right-of-way is a privilege not a right and therefore operators can be required to abide by certain rules and regulations in order to hold a sidewalk café permit.

In an interview with RE:MiamiBeach after the anti-hawking rules went into effect in 2019, Zafer Acik who owns Cuba Libre said he agreed that hawking has been an issue but he says he defines egregious behavior as “physically touching them, physically following them” and banning that is “100% okay but what it is right now, we are not allowed to talk at all unless [patrons] come to us and talk to us.” In a meeting with his employees, he said he told them, “Do not talk at all” even if people say hello to them.
Acik said the sidewalk café operators’ rights and his employees’ rights of free speech were being violated. “I’m okay with… banning the aggressive soliciting, it actually works for all of us… but telling people don’t talk, it’s too much,” he said at the time.

Acik did not respond to a request for comment on the permit revocation. Cuba Libre is located in The Fritz Hotel at 524 Ocean Drive.

Photo: Felix Mizioznikov /

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