Fairbanks assembly extends hours of bars and liquor stores

The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly voted Thursday evening to expand the hours that bars, restaurants and liquor stores can stay open.

Bars and restaurants can start serving alcohol two hours earlier, at 8 a.m. every day, and liquor stores can stay open two hours later, until 2 a.m.

The hours of bars and liquor stores now essentially align, with liquor stores able to stay open as late as bars do on weekdays (on weekends, bars can serve alcohol until 3:30 a.m. in Fairbanks). And bars can now open as early as liquor stores, which were already allowed to open at 8 a.m. daily.

The ordinance didn't change the hours alcohol is available, said Assembly member Shaun Tacke, who voted in favor of the ordinance: "It just changes the venues and opportunities."

Most of the testimony on Thursday was in favor of the ordinance, and many of those testifying said that they worked in the alcohol or restaurant industry.

Gretchen Nolan told the Assembly she had been working in the alcohol industry for more than 20 years and that she drives a beverage cart at a local golf course.

"It would be really profitable for myself and the golf course," Nolan said.

Many golf tournaments start at 8 a.m. Nolan said she recognized many of the people in the room.

"I can tell you guys are much happier to see me at 10 a.m. when I have beverages," Nolan said.

Much of the testimony centered around increasing tax revenue for the borough, and providing access for people who work hours beyond a 9-to-5 day shift and want to buy alcohol to take home, instead of going to a bar.

"It could create a little bit of revenue — it's not going to make anybody a millionaire," said Dick Ellsworth, owner of Goldstream bar and restaurant Ivory Jacks.

Testimony against the ordinance cited concerns that people who were already intoxicated would choose to drive to a liquor store late at night.

"The person who gets off at midnight and can't buy a bottle is not who I'm worried about. The person I'm worried about has been drinking all evening and decides to go buy a bottle," Marna Sanford said.

Fairbanks resident June Rogers, who is also a city council member, said that people who wanted to have alcohol at home after work could do so with a little planning.

"I don't see these as real difficult circumstances to get over and be able to enjoy a beverage of choice at a certain time," Rogers said.

The ordinance passed 6-1. Assembly member Lance Roberts was the sole dissenting vote, saying that it would not bring much revenue but would increase driving under the influence.

Assembly member Van Lawrence disagreed.

"Ultimately, it's going to reduce the amount of intoxicated drivers on the road," he said.

Initially, the ordinance only extended opening bar hours to 9 a.m. on Sundays, specifically for people who watch NFL football.

An amendment to change the hours to 8 a.m. every day of the week, brought by Tacke, was argued as being more consistent.

"We shouldn't be discriminatory to a certain day," Tacke said.

Assembly member Matt Cooper said he had been "on the fence" about the ordinance but said he didn't support increasing the bar hours to 8 a.m. every day. He voted against the amendment but left before the ordinance came to a vote.

The state of Alaska prohibits sale of alcohol between 5 and 8 a.m. but some local communities, including Fairbanks, have adopted stricter laws.

In Anchorage, bars must stop serving alcohol from 2:30 a.m. until 10 a.m. Monday through Friday, and 3 a.m. until 10 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, or on a legal holiday. They are allowed to remain open until 4 a.m. under the city's bar safety hour rule.

Liquor stores must close between 1 a.m. and 10 a.m. Monday through Friday, and 2 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Saturdays, and they can't open before noon Sundays in Anchorage.

The Fairbanks ordinance applies to all areas within the borough, including the cities of Fairbanks and North Pole.

The ordinance went into effect at 5 p.m. Friday.

Laurel Andrews

Laurel Andrews was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, Alaska Dispatch News and Alaska Dispatch. She left the ADN in October 2018.