Every January, without fail, some intrepid reporters covering the state Legislature in Denver do a little digging and come up with a few interesting stories, based on a sampling of proposed bills that are beginning to work their way through the General Assembly.
Sometimes those first stories come out before the right people even know about the bills — or have the opportunity to improve their content.
Such is the case now with House Bill 14-1132, proposed by state Rep. Crisanta Duran, a Democrat from Denver. Her bill would allow cities to set unlimited hours for bars, basically permitting any municipality to approve taverns staying open 24 hours a day.
No, the bill isn’t intended to emulate Las Vegas or New Orleans. Duran’s intent was simply to give cities such as Denver (and Colorado Springs) the ability to neutralize large crowds leaving bars at the usual 2 a.m. closing time, often leading to incidents and trouble. It’s a major issue in Denver’s LoDo area, worth intervention.
Colorado Springs knows all about this in our own downtown, where the nightly 2 a.m. exodus from bars often can create an explosive atmosphere, with an estimated 6,000 people hitting the streets at the same time, most in a compact area on Tejon Street north of Pikes Peak Avenue.
If you’ve ever lived anywhere with extended bar hours, you know the concept can work. For more than two years, during 2001-03, I lived and worked in the northwest Florida city of Fort Walton Beach. At that time, bars could stay open virtually all night, though only a few did. The laws there now force bars to close at 4 a.m.
It was so enjoyable. Anyone who worked into the night could go to a bar and not feel compelled to slam down as many drinks as possible before last call — which, as we know, often happens in Colorado. Instead, in Florida, anyone could simply sit and leisurely have a few without being rushed at all. And no, it didn’t lead to a bar filled with falling-down drunks, because those amateurs who over-indulged were almost always gone to oblivion far earlier in the night. Also, the bars paid closer attention to customers, making sure if possible to avoid over-serving anyone.
Almost always, the crowds would filter out slowly between 2 and 4 a.m. anyway, usually destined for breakfast at all-night diners.
(Some have wondered if this proposal might not sit well with the military. So perhaps I should add that the Fort Walton Beach-Destin area is home to a large military presence, with Eglin Air Force Base as well as Hurlburt Field and also Camp Rudder, a training facility for Army Rangers. All told, that area has close to 10,000 active-duty military, plus about 7,500 civilians and defense contractors.)
Based on that experience, I’m convinced the idea of extended bar hours could work very well in Colorado.
Not every town would jump on the late-night bandwagon. This might come as a surprise to some, but Manitou Springs apparently would not want any part of it.
“I agree that it makes more sense for downtown Colorado Springs with some of the ‘closing time’ issues that they have experienced,” Manitou Mayor Marc Snyder said. “But I don’t favor this for Manitou. I just don’t see a problem. I have not talked with our police chief, but I suspect that the current closing time is easier to police than what it would be under this proposal.”
Regardless, HB 14-1132 is anything but a sure thing. In its current form, it’s definitely not, based on the bill’s potential for unintended consequences.
By giving cities the freedom to set their own hours for bars, that could open the door for anti-drinking activists to persuade local leaders across the state to reduce — not increase — bar hours. Currently, state law allows bars to be open from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. if they want, so it’s not a local issue.
Two groups — the Tavern League of Colorado and the Colorado Restaurant Association — already are being proactive, pushing for revisions in the bill.
Greg Howard, owner of McCabe’s Tavern on South Tejon Street, serves on the state association’s board and supports changing the bill’s language. But he insists he wouldn’t keep McCabe’s open past 2 a.m. even if it were legal, because “nothing good happens after 2 o’clock” and he doesn’t see a late-night problem in his area.
“The bill is simply way too vague,” Howard said, “and it gives too much power to a municipality. That’s why the restaurant association at the Denver level is working with our lobbyist to amend it. Let’s get some verbiage in there that makes sense.”
And though the Denver Downtown Partnership is backing HB 14-1132, the Downtown Partnership of Colorado Springs is holding off for now.
“It’s come up so quickly that we’ve had no time to research it at all, so we haven’t taken a stance on it,” said Downtown Partnership CEO Susan Edmondson, who once lived in Vegas and thus has seen the other extreme.
Everybody involved seems to agree that the idea behind the legislation could work. (Share your views in our poll at csbj.com.) But January’s proposals don’t always become reality. Sometimes they need tweaking.
We’ll have to see about this one.