RAISING THE BAR
We started hearing the distant echoes of a decade-old hangover last week when the reconnaissance we pick up from the downtown curb upon which we rest our too-old-for-this head sounded like a garbled “extended drinking hours” in between its sewer burps. What? As you may well be aware, the city has had an issue with the notion of bumping drinking hours up to 3 a.m. (or 4 a.m. on the weekends) since it first flared up in 2003 among a series of recommendations from the Dyer-appointed Downtown Strategic Transition Team. Things got hot when businesses who felt they might be excluded from the “downtown” designation – and teetotalers who hate drunks – formed miniature riots in their own heads, forcing the whole thing back to a Prohibition-era silence. But now, according to some bar folks we know, the chatter is back, back, back. Also, the city isn’t necessarily denying it.
According to Mr. Downtown – or Thomas Chatmon, Downtown Development Board executive director – nothing’s been set in stone, this discussion is “premature,” and what people are hearing is “half-baked information.” Still, he concedes that he and his cohorts have resumed conversations about possibly extending drinking hours (for just the downtown core) and maybe even requiring downtown bars to enforce 21-plus rules in exchange for that extra hour of blurry business. He says that 132 of the strategic commission’s 166 recommendations have already been implemented, so it only makes sense that we would get around to the drunk ones eventually.
The main reason for the plan, oddly, is to attract the kind of businesses that will bring a more mature crowd to downtown and possibly accommodate the folks who come to the new downtown venues with more than just their planned entertainment options. We don’t want them to park and leave. We want them to park, drink, then leave. Also, since when was staying out until 3 or 4 considered “mature”?
Bars that aren’t on Orange Avenue fear that this gives downtown bars – who already pay lower property taxes, allegedly – an unfair advantage. “This is going to kill us” messages are already making their way onto social media, as is the fear of a secret ploy by the city to make these arrangements on the sly. But Chatmon assures us that this is not the case. Drinking hours may (likely!) change, but not without public vetting.
“We would never consider doing anything like this, and you should never consider doing anything like this, without input from the respective parties,” he says. “We don’t want to do anything in a vacuum.”
Except, maybe, drink too much.