St. Charles bar owners have 19 days to figure out a way to stop over-serving patrons, and to prevent patrons' fights and other disturbances, or they will find themselves having to close an hour earlier.
The city council Tuesday voted, 5-4-1, to table a vote on moving closing time earlier to 1 a.m. The government services committee will review the matter Sept. 24. Alderman Ed Bessner abstained because he works for a liquor distributor and wants to avoid the appearance of a conflict. Aldermen Jim Martin, Jo Krieger, Ray Rogina and William Turner voted "no."
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They delay was requested by Russ Whitaker, a lawyer representing 11 bars and taverns, most in the downtown.
Whitaker said his clients worry that a 1 a.m. closing will put them at a competitive disadvantage with bars in nearby towns, including Geneva, which have later hours. And when the city extended the hours to 2 a.m. seven days a week several years ago, it was in exchange for enacting a 2 percent tax on liquor sales, he said.
"Certainly one of the successes of the downtown is the success of bars and restaurants in the thriving entertainment district that is downtown St. Charles," Whitaker said.
He also said his clients were not aware of the issue, which was brought up at a government services committee meeting two weeks ago. Mayor Don DeWitte proposed the earlier closure in part because of an early August weekend where police responded to downtown late at night for nine fights near bars, all involving highly intoxicated people.
Several alderman and DeWitte, however, disputed that the bar owners were in the dark. DeWitte called a mandatory meeting with license holders in May to discuss fights, noise, public urination and other problems, as reported by police, near the downtown bars. Aldermen Maureen Lewis and Rita Payleitner attended the meeting as well.
Whitaker said the bar and restaurant owners want to "create solutions," perhaps forming a bar and restaurant association and having the association keep a list of battling patrons who would be banned from the establishments. He also said alcohol sales and serving training, which the city requires of license holders and servers, doesn't specify what overserving is and what to do about it. Again, Payleitner disagreed, saying that was covered in the mandatory meeting with DeWitte and Police Chief Jim Lamkin in May.
DeWitte was blunt in his response.
Whitaker suggested the summer's problems may have been due to an influx of college-age patrons home on summer break, but Alderman Bill Turner wasn't buying that. "This isn't just something that happened this summer. The neighborhood has been complaining about this for some years," he said.
And Alderman Ray Rogina said statistics from police show a 40 percent increase in calls for fights and intoxicated people in the two years since the closing time was moved to 2 a.m.
Whitaker said closing earlier "just changes the time that things happen."
"I don't want to hear about a bar and restaurant association. ... I want to hear how you are going to monitor the consumption of alcohol in the downtown business district," DeWitte said. "Servers should have some idea how much they are serving, who is being served and where.
"That's the only solution I want to hear about how we are going to solve this problem."
Hours: Official says 40% spike in fights, intoxication calls since start of 2 a.m. closing