Assemblyman wants downtown bars to quit serving earlier

rshinohara@adn.comDecember 17, 2012 

Rumrunners Old Towne Bar & Grill on 4th Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Friday, May 4, 2012.

BOB HALLINEN — Anchorage Daily News

— Frustrated by last-call chaos on sidewalks and streets downtown when all the bars close, Anchorage Assemblyman Patrick Flynn wants to require the largest bars to stop serving drinks an hour earlier.

As you might expect, some bar owners think Flynn's proposal is a bad idea.

Police are called to deal with trouble at bar closing time downtown almost every weekend, said Anchorage Police Department Capt. Bill Miller.

On one night a few weeks ago, there was both a stabbing and a shooting.

"The issue is you have large establishments shoving dozens of people out into the street all at once. You're taking their drinks away," Flynn said. And there aren't enough cabs to get them all home right away.

"If you think of all the things you could do to create a bad situation," this is it, he said.

Flynn is introducing a measure at Tuesday's Anchorage Assembly meeting that would require downtown bars with a capacity of 125 people or more to stop alcohol service an hour earlier than now -- at 1:30 a.m. instead of 2:30 a.m. weekdays, and 2 a.m. instead of 3 a.m. weekends.

Bars covered would include Platinum Jaxx, the Anchor Pub, the Avenue Bar, the Gaslight Lounge, the Pioneer Bar, Humpy's and others, Flynn said. City planning officials said 20 or more bars are likely covered.

Smaller bars and all bars outside of downtown could keep serving for an hour longer under the Flynn law.

The proposal will be up for public hearing and Assembly action at a later meeting.

Also on Tuesday night's agenda: A resolution sponsored by Flynn and Assemblymen Paul Honeman and Ernie Hall proposing that the Assembly protest the renewal or transfer of the liquor license for Rumrunner's Old Towne Bar & Grill on E Street downtown. It will also be set for a later public hearing.

State regulators say Rumrunner's has committed more liquor law violations than any other Alaska bar, and prosecutors have charged the owners with assault, evidence tampering and falsifying records.

Rumrunner's closed for good early Sunday morning, KTUU reported after talking to some of the bar's employees. But there's still the matter of whether the bar will be allowed to transfer its liquor license and cash out. Flynn says no.

Flynn's idea for the larger bars to stop serving drinks an hour earlier is just making the rounds of bar owners, but at least two who have checked it out don't like it.

"The fact still remains that in half an hour, we're pushing 400 people outside of our building," said Jess Hepper, owner and general manager of Platinum Jaxx. "I don't know what that changes."

"We'll lose business, our employees will lose money," said John Patee, owner of the Gaslight Lounge.

If the larger bars have to quit serving alcohol at 1:30 a.m., patrons will just move on to one of the smaller bars that are allowed to stay open an hour longer, Patee said. "It's stupid."

Patee said it would be better to do last call at the regular time and just let people stay in the bar for up to an hour without being served any more drinks.

"Let them trickle out," he said.

A number of bars including Platinum Jaxx are improving their security systems with a sophisticated identification system, Hepper said.

When someone enters Platinum Jaxx, their photo, name, address and driver's license number are recorded, he said.

That allowed the bar to quickly identify people caught on video during a fight that ended in a fatal shooting outside of Platinum Jaxx the weekend before Halloween, Hepper said.

That was an especially violent night.

Police in the early morning hours of Oct. 28 responded to reports of an argument at the Anchor Pub on Fourth Avenue. While there, they discovered a man who said he was stabbed while waiting for friends outside the Gaslight, across Fourth Avenue from the Anchor Pub. Minutes later, the shooting happened outside Platinum Jaxx.

Hepper said the new security system will help peg troublemakers, and once they're flagged, they won't be able to get into any of the bars with the same security system.

He also thinks there should be a bigger police presence downtown at bar closing.

When police are short-staffed, two or three officers would patrol downtown weekend nights, Capt. Miller said. Otherwise, it could be four or five, he said. "You'll never hear a police officer say we can use fewer people," he said.

The Anchorage Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association, which represents local bars, is not yet prepared to comment, Silvia Villamides, the group's executive director, said.

Honeman said he supports Flynn's proposal. Some other Assembly members agree there's a problem, but haven't signed on to Flynn's solution.

"I'm not opposed to it. I just want to find out the ramifications," said Assemblyman Dick Traini. He also wonders why the law wouldn't apply to areas outside of downtown as well.

Flynn said in a memo to the Assembly that it would be best to do it downtown first as a pilot project because bars are concentrated there.

"I know we've got a problem at closing time downtown," said Assembly Hall. "We've got to figure out something."

Assembly member Debbie Ossiander said she sympathizes with Flynn's intent.

"My concern is -- isn't this going to basically cause a big rush of people who are intoxicated or almost intoxicated driving to other parts of town to continue drinking for another hour?" she asked.

 

Reach Rosemary Shinohara at rshinohara@adn.com or 257-4340.

 

 

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