2 a.m. bar closing goes down the drain for now
An option allowing Alexandria bars to serve alcohol until 2 a.m. is dead for now.
At its meeting Monday night, a motion by council member Cindy Bigger to allow the one-hour later time failed after no one seconded it.
The council, which approved a first reading of the ordinance on a 3-1 vote last month, did not say anything after holding a lively public hearing that generated a split reaction - five people spoke in favor of the later last call and three people opposed it.
Randy Stodola, owner of Bug-A-Boo Bay, and Charlie Meyer, owner of Fat Daddy's Bar and Grill, requested the 2 a.m. closing, which would have been optional for other liquor license holders in the city to pursue. A state liquor license is required for the 2 a.m. closing in cities that allow it.
The meeting room was packed almost to capacity, mostly by workers from Bug-A-Boo Bay who were told that their jobs were in jeopardy if the 2 a.m. time was not approved. Bug-A-Boo Bay plans to sell the business to Zorbaz, a pizza-bar franchise, but Zorbaz owners have stated that the deal hinges on the 2 a.m. extension.
After the motion died, Stodola expressed frustration over the council's non-action.
"They just unemployed all these people, including the girls leaving here crying," he said in the hallway outside of the meeting room. "The bars in Alexandria can't compete with the surrounding communities [that have a 2 a.m. closing]. The city has cost people their jobs."
Stodola said he didn't know what would happen now at Bug-A-Boo Bay or with Zorbaz. He said they'll discuss it more but not having a 2 a.m. closing could be a "deal breaker."
Three people expressed concerns about the later bar time.
Tony Tigges, a resident on South LeHomme Dieu Drive who lives near Bug-A-Boo, told the council that the noise from the bar is a problem, especially during the summer time. He said a 2 a.m. closing would only extend the problem.
Gail Murray, co-owner of Jerry's Bar and Grill, said that too many people are already driving around over the legal alcohol limit. "People don't need to be out after 1 a.m. drinking," she said.
Lori Koenig, another resident who spoke against the extension, encouraged the council members to go to the bars at 1 a.m. and see for themselves how drunk the younger bar customers are. She said a 2 a.m. time would give them another "power hour" to slam down more drinks.
Koenig said she was also concerned about pizza delivery drivers who would be out on the roads late at night encountering bar customers who were driving drunk.
Two Bug-A-Boo employees, George Royal and Christie Johanson, urged the council to allow a 2 a.m. closing.
Johanson said that the extension wouldn't provide another "power hour" because that could happen no matter when a bar closed. She said the problem of young adults drinking too much and then driving has always been an issue. She said it comes down to personal responsibility.
"Young people should know enough to call a taxi," she said. "Parents need to teach their kids how to be responsible."
Royal said more than his job was at stake. He said the character of the people working at Bug-A-Boo made him feel part of team and gave him a support system.
Meyer told the council that a 2 a.m. time is needed for bars to stay competitive with towns that have it, such as Garfield, Osakis and West Union.
Meyer added that today's 24-hour, seven-days-a-week lifestyles are different and the city should accommodate that trend. "Things are changing in our society," he said. "Some people work until 12 or 12:30 and have no place to go."
Meyer stressed that the 2 a.m. time would be optional. Each bar could set its own hours. He said that Fat Daddy's would likely stay open until 2 a.m. only on Friday and Saturday.
Stodola told the council that the argument being made against the later closing time was more of a legal issue. He said the 2 a.m. time had nothing to do with getting people drunk. He said that many people are coming off of late shifts and just want to go to a bar for a few drinks and food.
Stodola added that if Alexandria doesn't have the 2 a.m. time, people would drive to other towns that do yet wouldn't be able to find a taxi service to drive them home.
Rick Iverson, the owner of a local taxi company, supported the 2 a.m. time. He said that most of his business happens between midnight and 4 a.m.
The city also received input from three people before Monday's meeting. Bill Seykora, Depot Express owner, was against the idea; Bill Schultz, manager of the Holiday Inn, supported it; and a resident, Bryon Alstead, also favored the later closing from a business standpoint.
After asking for more public speaking and getting no takers, Alexandria Mayor Dan Ness closed the hearing and asked for a motion.
After a long pause, Bigger motioned to approve the final reading of the ordinance.
Ness repeatedly asked for a second but the council was silent.
Ness then declared that the motion was dead because of a lack of a second and moved on to the next agenda item.
Besides the later bar hours, the council addressed several other issues at Monday's meeting, including linking the Douglas Area Trails Association trail system to the YMCA; proclaiming November as Homeless Awareness Month; approving the purchase of cameras for police cars; updating the city's fire code, which includes burning restrictions; changing city fees for 2011; hiring a maintenance worker for the street department; changing a lease agreement with the Runestone Area Education District on the land at 817 Fillmore Street; final approval of city council and mayor salaries; new labor contracts with police officers and sergeants; and Alexandria being selected for an energy efficiency pilot program.
Look for more council news in the Wednesday and Friday issues of the Echo Press.