Would Longer Bar Hours Combat Atlanta's 'Boring?'

12:43 AM, Nov 19, 2009   |    comments
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ATLANTA -- As Atlanta struggles with shrinking revenue and a sluggish economy some are looking at a new approach in an old fight -- extending bar hours.

This comes as the group Metropoll surveyed meeting planners nationwide who gave Atlanta low marks for it's lack of nightlife.

It doesn't surprise Michael Benoit who owns The Vortex Bar and Grill.

"We have since gotten a reputation as being a boring city because the 4 a.m. bar closing was one of the few things that gave us the competitive edge," said Benoit.

While his restaurants never stayed open that late, six years ago Benoit was one of the most vocal in the fight to keep the serving hours at 4 a.m.  He warned the city then that curbing bar hours would lead to lost revenue for the city.  He believed businesses would close up shop and move to other surrounding communities that support later last calls.

"Unfortunately, everything I warned the council would happen, has happened," said Benoit.

City Councilman Kwanza Hall has introduced legislation asking for a study about extended bar hours-- specifically the revenue impact and public safety impact.

"I wasn't on the council when the hours were rolled back.  I'm not sure we want to make every place in the city open until 4 a.m., but if we find that allowing some to stay open would raise millions -- that money could pay for things like public safety and more police officers.  We should at least look at it," said Hall.

Six years ago, crime and complaints about late-night rowdiness
prompted the city to order all establishments stop serving alcohol at 2:30 a.m.  Later, a string of shootings and growing crowds led to the dismantling of  Buckhead Village.  Once known as the place where its Mardi Gras everynight, developers bought out lounge owner's leases forcing some to close and others to move elsewhere.

The area is now a vast hole with half finished construction projects. Some are condo developments that have been put on hold because of the economy.

Even Mary Norwood, who spearheaded the fight for shorter bar hours, says she's willing to look at the issue again.  She's now running for mayor and says she'd consider late night liquor licenses if establishments can show they'll control four things --traffic, trash, noise and perimeter security.

Norwood's opponent, Kasim Reed, says he would consider the idea of entertainment districts -- longer hours in some areas, but steer clear of neighborhoods.

Benoit says even that would better serve Atlanta than what it has now.

"It's about time they reconsider serving alcohol until 4 a.m.  Closing earlier has done nothing but hurt this city.  Atlanta was once known as the place to go for conventions because of its vibrant nightlife.  We need to recapture that. Especially in these economic times," said Benoit.

As for that survey that ranks Atlanta low when it comes to late night fun William Pate, CEO of the Atlanta Convention and Visitor's Bureau,  says it's not completely reliable.

"The numbers reflect the opinions of meeting planners that have been here in the last 10 years as well as those that haven't. The goal is to get meeting planners who haven't been to Atlanta in while to the city to show off the product," said Pate. 

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