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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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Tony Khuu, an operating partner with Vain Nightclub, sees it at as a business killer. Vain is an 18-and-up club, and Khuu says that a lot of clubs are forced to be more inclusive for financial reasons. “That demographic goes out,” he says. “Eighteen-to-25-year-olds go out. A lot of 25-year-olds look for 20-year-old girls. If you eliminate that, it kind of kills the energy.”

“We’re not Miami. We’re not Las Vegas,” he says. “If we get rid of the under-21 crowd, 25-to-30-year-olds won’t come downtown. You have a young professional crowd. They go to restaurants and go home by 12 a.m.”

Likewise, the age shift could affect the life of the downtown local music scene. Under the proposed ordinance, live venues could only host all-ages shows if they obtain a permit for each individual night. In order to qualify for the permit, the establishment must host “live” musical performances 50 percent of the time. That’s troubling to Khuu, who hosts DJ events at Vain, because nobody has qualified what “live” music is. (Fagan says that the city is still working out distinctions, and that the permitting process isn’t intended to be difficult.)

But even for traditional live venues, the effect could be costly, and the squeezing out of a thriving live music scene would have a trickle-down effect on nearby establishments that don’t host music, says Gene Zimmerman, owner of downtown’s Courtesy Bar.

“One of the main reasons I live in Orlando, or came here in the first place, is because of live music,” he says. “If they make them pull permits for every show, not only is that expensive, it’s laborious. I don’t want to see it go that way.”

It unfairly excludes businesses not in the CRA

When word first broke about the city delving back into the drinking-hours extension, the main opponents were those who would not be allowed the extra hour of business. Because the ordinance would apply to the entire Community Redevelopment Agency area of downtown – which includes parts of Thornton Park and Church Street in the downtown corridor – bars in the Mills 50 district cried foul on the exclusion because they think it creates an unfair advantage for downtown businesses.

“It’s clearly a hostile move for our business environment,” says Will Walker, owner of Mills 50 bars Will’s Pub and Lil’ Indies. The ordinance is clearly designed for drinking establishments, he says, yet it somehow excludes much of the city. “I can’t for the life of me think of another group of businesses they would treat this way.”

Also troubling to Walker is that other Orlando bars were kept out the loop. The city did eventually call a meeting of non-downtown bars, Walker says, but the attitude was “basically, go fuck yourself.”

Fagan confirms the meeting, but says that of the bars that were interested in the extended hours, few would be inclined to take on the additional regulations to make it work. “This isn’t a pick-and-choose entrée,” she says. “People are choosing to listen to certain parts of it.”

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