ST. CHARLES – Steve Baginski, owner of The Beehive Tavern & Grille, understands the value small changes can have in addressing the St. Charles City Council’s concerns about the downtown nightlife.
He and most other downtown bar owners have banded together in recent months to do what they can to reduce over-serving and fights. Acting as the St. Charles Tavern Association, the bar owners have begun using hand stamps to track patrons’ bar-hopping; they have created a banned list for those patrons involved in fights, illegal activity or other disruptive behavior; and, among other actions, they’ve started to lock their doors at the 1:20 a.m. last call.
Although the latter change is small, Baginski said, it prevents the “last-call bar hop.”
The bar owners hope their initiatives will stave off the City Council’s threat of changing closing time from 2 to 1 a.m. Mayor Don DeWitte proposed the reduction after an August weekend that required police response to several downtown fights involving intoxicated people.
Aldermen are expected to hear an update about the tavern association’s efforts and results this month. While the decision will be the council’s, DeWitte said, he would be inclined to take a wait-and-see approach.
“General feedback has been that the tavern association has made some strides in quelling some of the issues that had created this discussion to begin with, particularly issues related to over-service, altercations and after-hours violations,” DeWitte said.
“While those issues have not been totally eliminated, at this point it appears that they have been reduced significantly, and I think that’s based on the fact that the tavern association has been aggressive in addressing the issues the City Council had raised.”
Several tavern association members – Baginski, Mark Hoffman of Mark’s Second Street Tavern, Samantha Stone of the Thirsty Fox, Tom Wojcik of The House Pub and Richard Simpson of Alibi – said in a recent discussion they share the council’s concerns.
“We’re as concerned about fights as they are,” Hoffman said.
“We really don’t want any of our patrons to end up in trouble, either,” Stone said.
The tavern association has improved communication between the city and bar owners as well as among themselves, members said. Instead of handling issues independently, they can compare notes and share solutions, modifying when needed.
Hoffman said it seems as though younger patrons have gotten the message to improve their behavior.
“Everybody knows this is the hot topic in St. Charles,” he said. “Everybody settles a little bit.”
Statistics likely won’t be compiled until later this month, Deputy Police Chief Steve Huffman said. But police are seeing improved adherence to the rules, and the bar owners are cooperating with the police’s recommendations, such as how to prevent and deal with over-serving.
“Overall, we’re pleased with the work of the tavern association,” Huffman said.
DeWitte said he hoped the bars would take action and is glad they have.
With Rookies, Dawn’s Beach Hut, Ray’s Evergreen Tavern, the Filling Station Pub and Grill, Alley 64, Pub 222 and River Rockhouse also as members, the tavern association has nearly 100 percent participation among the downtown establishments.
“Nobody would do what we’ve done, step up the way we have,” Simpson said.
The Office and McNally’s Traditional Irish Pub have elected not to join. DeWitte said those establishments have been running “fairly clean operations” and have not had issues with fights, over-serving and after-hours violations.
Association members said they are eager for the negative attention to end.
“It’s not mayhem down here,” Stone said.
Getting blamed for every drunken driver is unfair because there are other places people consume alcohol, they said. Likewise, just because a fight may start outside their establishment doesn’t mean those involved were their patrons. And, they said, there always will be people who believe the rules don’t apply to them.
“We’re all doing everything we can to run a good bar,” Hoffman said. He later added the negative attention has discouraged older, responsible patrons from going out at night.
Instead of feeling like the city’s red-headed stepchildren, association members said, they’d rather be given credit for the positives they bring to the community – such as numerous fundraisers, hundreds of jobs and businesses that help make St. Charles an entertainment and dining destination.
“We make this town a destination point,” Wojcik said.
While bar owners said they close before 2 a.m. on slow nights, they fear a mandated earlier closing time would lessen St. Charles’ appeal to those seeking evening entertainment. For example, a 12:20 a.m. last call would give nighttime moviegoers less time to grab a drink afterward, and that also could drive movie business to communities with later last calls.
Hoffman said it would be unfair to reduce their hours while maintaining the 2 percent liquor tax that was implemented in 2010.
Baginski, who took heat from aldermen during a tavern association update in November, said downtown Main Street has been liquor row for decades. He hopes the recent perception that the bars have an adversarial relationship with the city and police department will fade.
“We’re happy to work with them,” he said.