City May Tinker with Bar Hours

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City May Tinker with Bar Hours

July 15, 2015

Sean Rossman

Tallahassee nightclubs, which have enjoyed carrying their parties into the early morning hours, are pushing back against a city proposal that would force them to close earlier.

They have the backing of the late-night club crowd but not most local bar owners, who argue the extended hours only bring in more riffraff and are unfair to those places that have to close earlier.

Last week, Tallahassee city commissioners punted on a revised ordinance supported by bar owners that would force all places that serve alcohol to the same 2:30 a.m. closing time until at least later this year.

Instead, commissioners wanted answers on what impact later hours have on police and crime and what other Florida college towns mandate. The issue is expected to be taken up later this year.

Current city ordinance reads that all establishments serving alcohol must must halt alcohol sales at 2 a.m. and stay closed between 2:30 a.m. and 6 a.m.

But some businesses have an archaic restaurant license that allows them to stay open until 4 a.m., said City Attorney Lew Shelly.

Shelley said the debate is about creating a level playing field for nightclubs and bars and whether late nights put pressure on law enforcement.

"Legally, no one is allowed to sell alcohol after 2 o'clock in the morning. So why stay open to three or four?" asked Scott Carswell, co-owner of The Moon, at the July 8 city commission meeting. "Two thirty has worked for me as the largest bar in town for a long time and it's time to make it equal."

Shelley said former Tallahassee Police Chief Dennis Jones raised concerns about the late-night crowds years ago. Not much good comes from later bar hours, said John Summers, a longtime employee in the local entertainment industry.

"The customers get more intoxicated, more fights break out," Summers added. "The later it goes, nothing good happens."

Shelley said TPD has not presented any documented enforcement problems due to the late hours.

Karma Nightclub owner John Jaquet opposed any changes. He said the city's effort to be fair is actually unfair to thriving clubs like his.

"They don't deal with my crowd. They don't know what my people do," Jaquet said. "I've been in business for eight years until 4 a.m. and I do well."

The owner of The Coliseum nightclub — usually open until 3 a.m. on the weekends — said cutting back on his hours would hurt the city's entertainment industry.

"Limiting the hours of operation will be a step backwards for our city," Simon Dag said. "There will be a large financial impact and some businesses will have to close doors, cut jobs as well."

Bar-goer and Florida A&M University doctoral candidate Tiffany Baskerville opposed the ordinance since she wants the freedom to go out to Karma after a long night of studying.

"It's nice to have a place to go at that time just to unwind," she said.

Commissioner Curtis Richardson said he opposes the change since it would impact small businesses.

"We say that we want to encourage the expansion of our private sector business," Richardson said. "I don't want us to do anything that's going to discourage that."

On the other hand, Commissioner Scott Maddox said the same closing rules should apply to both licenses.

"Whatever we do for one," he said. "We ought to do for the other one."

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