Starting next month, Tallahassee’s bars and restaurants will be able to carry on their parties until nearly dawn.
By a 3-2 vote — with Commissioners Gil Ziffer and Scott Maddox in opposition — the Tallahassee City Commission passed an ordinance Wednesday to allow all city establishments that serve alcohol to stay open until 4 a.m., no matter the type of bar or restaurant license they hold. The passage of the ordinance, which takes effect in 30 days, comes with an emphasis that the new regulations be enforced.
All bars and restaurants, however still will have to abide by the longstanding city policy that requires them to stop serving beer, wine and liquor by 2 a.m.
The commission’s action bucked city staff’s recommended closing time of 2:30 a.m. City Attorney Lew Shelly said the proposal was an effort to bring clarity to the city’s restaurant and bar regulations. A handful of nightclubs were using a special restaurant license to stay open sometimes until 4 a.m., well past the city’s old 2:30 a.m. closing time. A clear citywide closing time, he added, would provide uniformity for law enforcement officers who address late-night let-outs and create a level playing field for all city establishments.
Commissioners appeared to be sympathetic to arguments of nightclub owners and late-night food purveyors that their businesses and employees would suffer financially with an earlier closing time.
Jeremy Matlow, owner Gaines Street Pies — which is open until 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays — said he would have to cut three full-time positions with an earlier closing time. A large part of his pizzeria’s business is serving the after-bar crowd between 2 and 3 a.m.
“If there are problems with establishments serving alcohol after 2 a.m. then that should be looked at as an enforcement issue,” Matlow wrote to residents of the All Saints District. “It isn’t the time to pass a sweeping regulation that targets one or two nightclubs.”
Several residents spoke out against the staff’s recommendation, mostly the owners and employees of two nightclubs known for being open late: Karma on South Monroe Street and Coliseum on West Tennessee Street.
“These businesses have chosen to invest in our city because of our business environment,” said Max Herrle, a lobbyist for Karma and Coliseum. “If we pass this ordinance tonight we will be limiting our innovation, we will be limiting what kind of businesses open here.”
Commissioner Curtis Richardson, who voted for the 4 a.m. closure, agreed the changes would impact local small businesses, including those not invested in the club scene.
“This does have an impact on their bottom line, their employees and their ability to take care of themselves and their families,” he said.
The issue was brought to the forefront after a few local bar owners complained they couldn’t compete with nightclubs that stayed open later.
Scott Carswell, the owner of The Moon on Lafayette Street, was one of those pushing for the 2:30 a.m. closing time. He questioned why a bar would want to stay open past 2 a.m. when there’s no money to be made off alcohol. He claimed to have proof the nightclubs were selling alcohol past 2 a.m.
“The fact is when you shut the alcohol down at 2 everybody needs to go home at 2:30,” he said. “There’s nothing else to do. They’re not sobering up; they’re not eating food. They’re there socializing and drinking.”
John Jaquet, the owner of Karma, refuted rebutted Carswell’s statement, saying his club makes money past 2 a.m. and it’s not by selling drinks illegally. Karma hosts parties and features musical acts and DJs.
“We make a lot of revenue after 2 a.m.,” he said. “We’ll charge anywhere from $10 to $30 to get into the venue after 2 o’clock... that’s what we do that’s what we’ve always done.”
Ziffer — who pushed for a 3 a.m. closing time — said staying open later could add stress to the city’s police force. He too questioned the clubs’ business tactics past 2 a.m.
“The later that restaurants that serve alcohol are open, the later we have young people that are on our streets that law enforcement will have to potentially deal with,” Ziffer said. “They make money on alcohol sales... If you’re following the letter of the law you’re not going to be losing that much money having to close at 3.”
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