ST. CHARLES – The St. Charles City Council is expected to vote early next month on a proposal that would require bars to close at midnight or pay extra to stay open as late as 2 a.m., and not all bar owners are on board with the move.
The proposal stipulates that bars would close at midnight, but liquor licensees can apply for late-night permits to stay open until 1 or 2 a.m. Fee schedules vary depending on the type of liquor license a bar owner holds.
According to the proposal, a licensee with a base license renewal fee of $1,200 that wishes to stay open until 1 a.m. would pay an additional $800 annually, which would total $2,000. A licensee with a base renewal fee of $1,200 wishing to stay open until 2 a.m. would be charged an additional $2,300, for a total of $3,500.
Mark Hoffman, owner of Second Street Tavern, said the proposal seems like another tax.
“They already charge a 2 percent tax on liquor sales, a sin tax. No other business in town pays a tax like that,” he said. “I support the business community in St. Charles, but it just seems to be more and more difficult to feel positive about doing business in St. Charles the way we’re being treated.”
Mayor Ray Rogina, the city’s liquor commissioner, said the idea behind the late-night permits is to curb over-serving alcohol, which – in turn – may help eliminate problems that come with over-serving, such as fights.
He said late-night permits can be revoked if problems start to occur.
“To me, I think any and all late-night problems are a result of over-serving somewhere, wherever that may be,” Rogina said. “I think we have to come to grips with that. I think the late-night permit is an opportunity to say to licensees, look, if you keep a clean record, you’ll keep your permit.”
Alley 64 owner Jeremy Casiello called the late-night permit proposal “confusing” because the City Council seems to have a different idea of what over-serving is compared to what the state’s Beverage Alcohol Sellers and Servers Education and Training, or BASSET, requires.
“The definition is, if [patrons] stumble and you continue to serve them, that’s over-serving,” he said. “The city says we’re now harboring an intoxicated person. There’s definitely some confusion on how they want us to handle different patrons.”
Samantha Stone, owner of the Thirsty Fox, said she can understand the idea behind the late-night permits, as they could help make bars where there are repeated problems more responsible, but said many business owners are still feeling the pain from the recession.
“I think it’s bad timing in the economy to raise the price of liquor licenses,” she said.
Liquor licenses in St. Charles will be up for renewal on May 1, and that’s when liquor license holders can start applying for the late-night permits.
Stone said she would apply for at least a 1 a.m. permit because the Thirsty Fox serves dinner until 10 p.m., and closing at midnight might force some of her customers out much earlier.
“If I have to call last call at 11:30 while they’re still eating and maybe having a cocktail, then who’s going to come back here for dinner?” Stone asked.
Hoffman said if the proposal passes, he would likely apply for a 2 a.m. permit because customers have become accustomed to the bar closing at that time. He said he didn’t think the late-night permit proposal would do much to stop fighting and over-serving issues.
“I don’t think $900 is going to stop fighting,” he said. “Bar owners have taken this issue very seriously. My bar, particularly – we very, very, very seldom have an issue that requires police. ... It’s a money raiser, not a fight stopper.”
Casiello said he’s heard at several City Council meetings that issues such as fighting and public urination have waned in recent years. He said he thinks the late-night permit proposal is putting a bandage on the issue, and he’d like city officials to spell out clearer expectations for bar owners.
Rogina said if the measure passes at the Monday meeting, he hopes to invite liquor licensees to a meeting to explain the changes.
He said it’s up to bar owners to decide if they want to stay open later, and he said he’s guessing most bar owners would be allowed to obtain permits in the beginning if the proposal passes. But they would be held accountable if there are problems down the line.
“I make no bones about it that it’s time for licensees to address the issues,” he said. “Nobody has to close at midnight. It’s their decision. I think in just about all cases in the beginning, nobody’s going to be denied that.”