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Assembly members want to revisit bar "safety hour" law

Nathaniel Herz

Two Anchorage Assembly members want to scrap and remodel a recently passed city law that permits bars to stay open an extra hour without serving alcohol, after only one tried to sign up for the program and was met with administrative delays and the prospect of big fines.

Assembly members Adam Trombley and Dick Traini introduced an ordinance at Tuesday's meeting that would repeal the law, which was passed in March, and replace it with a trial version that would last one year and eliminate the steep fines.

"Hopefully, there's buy-in this time," Traini said in an interview. "We've done all we can do, so we need the bar owners to step up and take some ownership on this."

Bars in Anchorage are currently allowed to stay open until 2:30 a.m. on weeknights and 3:00 a.m. on weekends.

Until March, they had to close at those times, and in some areas of downtown that led to intoxicated customers flooding city streets, where shootings and other incidents have ensued. One local business has had a fight crash through two windows, while another lost a door.

"It's insane," said Chris Covington, a bartender at the downtown Anchor Pub. "If you let that many people in a short space out ... something's going to happen."

Last winter, Assemblyman Patrick Flynn proposed forcing large downtown bars to stop serving alcohol an hour before "bar break," so that patrons could finish their drinks and trickle out more slowly.

After protests from bar owners, the Assembly instead passed a measure in March, sponsored by Traini and Trombley, that allowed them to apply for a permit to stay open for an extra "safety hour" after 3:00 a.m., without serving drinks.

The ordinance, however, allowed the city to levy fines of up to $10,000 on bars that broke the new rules. Since March, just one bar, the Gaslight Lounge, applied for a permit, and was met by delays in processing at the city clerk's office attributable to the new law's complexity.

"It was our problem," Traini said, referring to the Assembly.

In the meantime, the problems at closing time haven't gone away, said Capt. Bill Miller, who's in charge of patrol for the Anchorage Police Department.

"We've been pretty clear in the past about bar break. When you take that many people and dump them out on to the street after they've been drinking, there will be problems," he said in an interview. "And from my perspective, I don't think that's changed any."

Managers at several downtown bars and officials with a local trade group could not immediately be reached for comment.

The new ordinance sponsored by Traini and Trombley would eliminate the fines in the previous version, and cut the application fee for a permit from $100 to $50.

It will come before the Assembly for public testimony at its next meeting, and afterward members will vote on it, according to Traini.

Traini said he hoped more bar owners would apply for permits this time around, though he wouldn't say what the Assembly would try next if the effort failed.

But Flynn, who proposed the initial bar break ordinance last winter, recognized that coming up with a successful solution could be a challenge for the Assembly members -- who he suggested were more likely to be found sound asleep late on weekends than reveling at bars like Platinum Jaxx.

"It's kind of funny: a bunch of us old coots trying to figure out a bunch of kids getting out of a bar," he said. "Most of us haven't seen a bar break in a long time, if ever."

Reach Nathaniel Herz at nherz@adn.com or 257-4311.


By NATHANIEL HERZ
nherz@adn.com