How goes 2 a.m. closing?Summer is on its way, which means tourists are too. At four Alexandria establishments, they can enjoy a cool drink on a hot summer night a little longer. Early in 2012, Bug-A-Boo Bay and Fat Daddy’s at Garden Center Lanes pursued – and won – the right to extend their last call from 1 a.m. to 2 a.m. Raapers and Depot Express soon followed suit.
By: Crystal Dey, Alexandria Echo Press
Summer is on its way, which means tourists are too. At four Alexandria establishments, they can enjoy a cool drink on a hot summer night a little longer.
Caren Timmerman, owner of Bug-A-Boo Bay, and Charlie Meyer, owner of Fat Daddy’s, have noticed the usual crowds coming out later, staying until close – and staying in Alexandria.
Andy Rassat, owner of Raapers, has noticed the same time shift but also a different clique. “It’s what the younger crowd is looking for,” Rassat said.
Timmerman said people who wanted to go to a neighboring city like Garfield or Osakis for a 2 a.m. last call would leave Alexandria as early as 11:30 p.m. “Unfortunately, it’s not just the extra hour we were missing,” she said.
Tourist crowds that emerge from the cabins and come up from the Cities this summer will embrace the 2 a.m. close they have been requesting, local bar owners believe. Meyer said the 2 a.m. last call will help diffuse the “small town” stigma he’s dealt with in past years.
“We have a lot of really fun things in the works for May 1,” Timmerman said.
Beginning Memorial Day weekend, Timmerman said, Bug-A-Boo Bay will be open until 2 a.m. every day. As of May 1, a new menu, drink of the day specials and feature menus will be introduced.
Raapers will also have daily specials and breakfast starting at 7 a.m. Monday through Saturday. Rassat said the 2 a.m. close may be extended from Friday and Saturday to include special event days like the Fourth of July, which is on a Wednesday this year.
Raapers changed its closing time to 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays in February after many regular customers had made the request. Rassat polled his employees, who approved of the extended hour as well.
“It’s working for us; it’s keeping people here in town,” Rassat said.
Meyer said the later close Thursday through Saturday helps Fat Daddy’s, Garden Center Lanes and the Broadway Ballroom stay competitive. He looks forward to attracting the hospitality crowd and bringing in more conventions.
BAD FOR BUSINESS?
In a letter to the Alexandria city council objecting to the ordinance, Gail Murray, owner of Jerry’s Bar and Grill, said she would be forced to remain open the extra hour and would absorb additional labor costs and increased expenses in order to compete with the other bars with extended hours.
“I don’t know that there are a whole lot of other bars that get enough traffic that would want to extend their last call,” Timmerman said.
Feedback she has heard from other owners is that they either don’t want to stay open that late or their clientele is more restaurant based. In a bar environment like Bug-A-Boo Bay, it’s more practical.
“Cost effectively, it makes a great deal of sense,” Timmerman said.
Likewise, Rassat sees a lot of people migrating between Raapers and Depot Express downtown but isn’t sure how the 2 a.m. close would affect bars on the outskirts. Rassat said he sees an increase in foot traffic in downtown Alexandria in the summer.
“I’m glad we did it,” said Meyer. “It helps us stabilize the crowd.”
With a 1 a.m. last call, it took longer to clear a crowd out of the building. Now, Meyer said, people start leaving on their own.
The city passed the ordinance but bars need to apply with the state. When the state issues a license, a copy is provided to the city.
Initially, the cost to extend to a 2 a.m. last call is $200. An existing business will pay according to the previous year’s gross alcohol sales. Timmerman said success will be determined after the first summer has passed.
“I can only see good things coming from it,” Timmerman said. “It will definitely be a new experience.”
INCREASED DRINKING AND DRIVING?
When the ordinance was brought before the Alexandria city council in late 2011, concerns were raised regarding an influx of drunk driving.
Timmerman said a lot of research was done prior to approaching the council. It appeared that drinking and driving had actually gone down in communities with a 2 a.m. bar close, she said.
“I’ve noticed, for the most part, people have been pretty responsible,” Timmerman said. She said the number of cars in the parking lot on Saturday and Sunday mornings are evidence of deterred drinking and driving.
“Drinking and driving is a terrible thing,” said Rassat. “You can always come back and get your car in the morning.”
All servers and bartenders at Bug-A-Boo Bay, Raapers and Fat Daddy’s are trained to recognize when people have had enough alcohol to drink and know when it’s time to call a cab.
Meyer said alcohol awareness is something that has been an important part of the industry for a long time.
“Somebody has to stay sober enough to drive,” he said.
Although it is early in the year, numbers provided by the Alexandria Police Department show a decrease in driving while intoxicated (DWI) arrests between this year and last.
In 2011, there were 21 DWI arrests between January and March. There have been nine for the first quarter of 2012 in the city. By year’s end, 112 DWI arrests had been made in 2011.
Some customers staying at bars for the later last call are calling for a ride home.
“We have noticed an increase in ridership after 2 a.m. due to the extended closing times,” said Dean Syvertson with Orange Cab.
Syvertson said once the population grows this summer, Orange Cab will add additional taxis as needed. The company also participates in sober cab programs and hopes to extend services in Alexandria to include package delivery, jumpstarting and vehicle unlocking.
Two taxi services are licensed in Alexandria: Rainbow Rider, which operates in Douglas County between the hours of 6:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and Orange Cab, which operates 24-hours a day, seven days a week, including holidays.