BY LAURA LIERA Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
You can't order a pint of beer after 2 a.m. in a California bar. But that could all change if a proposed bill becomes law and allows restaurants, bars and nightclubs in the state to serve alcohol until 4 a.m.
Introduced by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, Senate Bill 635 would allow communities the opportunity to create a local plan -- formed by the community and local law enforcement -- to extend "on-sale" alcohol service hours at establishments such as restaurants and bars past 2 a.m.
John Carr, a spokesman for the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, said currently bars can sell alcohol from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. The ABC has not taken a stand on the bill and is waiting to evaluate it.
If passed and made law, Leno argues, it would help California financially by allowing cities to compete for tourism dollars that for now are lost because of state law.
"It's an opportunity for cities to create jobs, expand business and increase tax revenue," Leno said in a phone interview. "It doesn't require anything of anybody -- it just gives cities the option for this permit."
Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood doesn't see anything good coming from this proposed bill.
"I'm not in favor of allowing people to become more intoxicated by allowing bars to close an extra two hours later," he said. "Public safety has to win this."
Local bartenders and managers aren't all keen with the idea, especially because it could mean they'd close much later if their owners applied for a permit and it was granted.
Richard Slifka, owner/manager of Bellvedere Cocktail Lounge, thinks the current cut-off is perfectly fine.
"It's hard enough to keep people under control up to that time when they have had too much drink," he said. "I can't even imagine who would want to be drinking until 4 a.m."
The lounge's last call is at 1:30 a.m. and bartenders have to lock up all liquor by 2 a.m.
Currently, 18 states in the United States have the 4 a.m. alcohol cut-off, and their cities include Las Vegas, New York City and Miami, said Leno.
A bartender at The Mint for 10 years, Rome Koble, 39, wouldn't mind working an extra two hours a night and has seen the bar get busier later at night.
"It gets pretty busy at around midnight so I know that if we stayed open until 4 a.m., those people that only get two hours to socialize would enjoy more time to drink more freely without any restrictions," she said.
Many locals who enjoy the nightlife like the idea of extending alcohol service hours because many of them continue drinking after bars close.
Adam Harrell, 37, a Bakersfield resident who visits Sandrini's with his friends on weekends, said they usually leave the bar at 1:45 a.m.
"We know that they stop selling liquor at 2 a.m. so it's a mad race to the liquor store to get more alcohol," he said. "Regardless of the hours, most people continue drinking after they go to a bar so this way, they would all stay at the bar instead of rushing out to buy alcohol."
Under the proposal, city or county officials would make a request to the ABC, which would identify which establishments would be granted a permit to serve alcohol later. The bill would not permit extended hours at liquor stores and other so-called "off-sale" establishments, according to Leno.
The bill brings up the issue of drunken driving and safety on the roads.
Silas Miers, a program manager at the national offices of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, says the organization is neutral on the bill.
"We don't think it's right or wrong," he said. "There is not enough evidence to prove that more drunk driving is going to happen just because bars are open two more hours."
Some people don't like the idea of extending alcohol sale times.
Mike Duckworth, 36, a Bakersfield resident, thinks more accidents and crime might happen if people get out of bars so late.
"Nobody needs to be drinking that late especially because most of those people coming out of bars that late will probably not be sober and would be risking their life as well as someone else's," Duckworth said.
Leno said he is aware of public safety concerns and takes them very seriously. But that is why each city would have to create a plan with the right community voices, including law enforcement, businesses and community members.
"It's all in how the city decides to design the plan for their specific community and what places they decide to grant this permit to," he said. "And then after that, it will all be reviewed by the ABC, as they have final approval."