St. Charles aldermen are on a mission to reduce the frequency that police are called to downtown taverns, and one of the first ideas for combating that problem is to not add any more taverns to the mix. But while some aldermen have expressed some confusion about discerning a would-be restaurant from a tavern in the liquor license application process, the new liquor commission decided this week no changes are needed. Instead, city officials will focus on revoking the ability of taverns to stay open until 2 a.m.
Places like Giordano's Restaurant & Pizzeria and Chipotle Mexican Grill are the same kind of liquor-serving establishments as The Filling Station and The Beehive Tavern, according to St. Charles' ordinances. Those establishments all have various "Class B" liquor licenses, meaning they are places that are supposed to earn most of their profits by serving food. But once those establishments open, there is no requirement to prove that food-based designation.
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One suggested litmus test is an annual audit of receipts to show if an establishment made at least 50, or even 60 percent, of profits from food sales versus liquor. But that would require city staff members to conduct audits that may reach unfair conclusions about establishments where the cost of a bottle of wine surpasses that of the full meal.
"The percentage thing is way too fuzzy," said Commissioner Rita Payleitner in reviewing suggestions this week. "I can't go with something that's not cut and dry."
Another test of the food focus would be to require all Class B license holders to serve a full menu of food the entire time they are open. The city's tavern association has already fought against that plan as an idea that would dramatically increase their labor costs.
"I'm not convinced that just because you stay open and have a full meal that that's going to address what we're trying to change here," said Commissioner Maureen Lewis. "I think we want to eliminate the behavior on the street."
Given those obstacles to the only ideas on the table, the city's liquor commission decided its first action would be to take no action on revising rules or adding a litmus test.
Instead, Mayor Ray Rogina said the liquor commission will debate the crafting of a guideline that delineates when a license that allows an establishment to stay open until 2 a.m. could be revoked or set back to a midnight closing.
"I agree with all of you that you leave the current rules in place as they are, but you memorialize somewhere in the ordinance that a 2 o'clock license is a privilege," Rogina said. "To me, that is a very significant and heavy hammer. Here's the evidence, your 2 o'clock license is taken away from you."
Rogina said the ultimate solution to drunken behavior in the downtown may be hiring more police officers with a specific focus on downtown taverns.
Departing City Administrator Brian Townsend also sent a message to existing taverns that city officials aren't trying to get rid of them, just clean up the behavior of their patrons.
"There continue to be assertions made by some folks that there are too many bars in downtown St. Charles, and the city should do something to reduce that," Townsend said. "That has not been the position of the previous city council. There has been no attempt to close down the existing establishments."