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Cover 05/29/2013

Reasons bar-owners are frustrated over the drinking hours debate in Orlando

It turns out, the city’s proposition to extend last call by one hour may not be good for some bars

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The city’s puritanical take on downtown bacchanalia reared its ugly head back in 1997, when city commissioners and Mayor Glenda Hood, fearing widespread drug abuse and related shenanigans, passed a muted anti-rave ordinance. The move was particularly controversial because Rolling Stone had recently declared Orlando a rave capital, largely because of the all-night parties at the Club at Firestone (now Firestone Live). The ordinance was a symbolic move that retained the cessation of liquor service at 2 a.m., but also forced clubs to close completely by 3 a.m. Those are the laws still in place today.

In 2003, under the tutelage of new Mayor Buddy Dyer, a strategic team proposed a looser-tied change of heart: extending drinking hours to 3 a.m. (and 4 a.m. on weekends). That move was widely supported by downtown nightlife establishments, but drew public outcry that led to it being taken off the table for a decade.

John Gardner, owner of Independent Bar downtown, remembers those discussions. He says they were really just a “big push for Firestone,” which had been slighted six years before by the anti-rave ordinance. “A lot of people wanted 3 a.m. liquor at the time,” he says. “I’m happy to see that more people seem to be against it now than back then.”

But just like then, Gardner remains against the drinking-hours extension. “If you want to appeal to a wider spectrum, giving them 3 a.m. liquor is not going to help. Three o’clock liquor would just push everybody further back into the night. You have a social cost there. The natural order of dinner, bar, then nightclub – they fit nicely.”

 

The whole process has been done in secret

Though the city claims that it has tried to keep the process of reintroducing the drinking-hours extension transparent, many downtown – and outlying – bar owners came across the information secondhand. Certain larger bar interests were privy to the planning via access to the DDB, something city spokeswoman Heather Fagan says wasn’t necessarily by design. “If you were to have all 87 bars at the table, you would never make progress,” she says. “Maybe they should have had a smaller bar owner at the table, in hindsight.”

That’s brought confusion and resentment (or “misinformation,” as Fagan says) from some of the smaller bars that aren’t considered “players” in the discussion.

“This all came public after a few of us called the city and started asking questions, but at the same time the performing arts center is moving closer to opening and the Magic announced the land purchase for entertainment center. Kind of fishy timing?” Aaron Dudek, co-owner of the Lodge, says in an email. “The city has created our questioning of their motives in all of this, and anything they do by the cloak-and-dagger style they have chosen. It would be a wonderful thing if we felt like they were on our side and had our backs.”

It wasn’t until late April that the city decided to hold meetings with downtown bar owners for their input. By then, the regulatory plans had already been drafted, though Fagan insists that the city is still honing the plans to reflect the concerns of the businesses. Dozens of downtown bar owners convened their own meeting at the Lodge last month, and the general consensus, according to several of those in attendance, was that with the regulations as stated, none were fully in support of the plan.

It’s being done to benefit off-duty cops

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