Quieting Annapolis' 'Bar Wars'

July 17, 1995

The war, as it is now called, over closing hours for bars and restaurants in downtown Annapolis involves a lot more than a good night's sleep for Ward 1 residents and money in the bank for bar owners. The economic health of the state capital depends heavily on a lively downtown. Without the restaurant and tavern trade, downtown will dry up and die. Annapolis can't afford to roll up the sidewalks at midnight.

The solution to the problems Ward 1 residents suffer as a result of living downtown ought to be obvious: vigilant enforcement of existing laws against excessive noise and trash, public urination and disorderly conduct. Of course, residents shouldn't have to put up with blaring music or drunks stumbling through their gardens. That's what the laws are there to prevent. If they aren't being enforced well enough, residents ought to be hounding the City Council to invest in more police assigned to patrol the City Dock area at night.

Instead, they're hauling out the heavy artillery to stop the council from allowing other restaurants and bars a privilege already enjoyed by eight establishments -- a 2 a.m. closing time. Legislation to expand 2 a.m. licenses to Buddy's Crabs and Ribs and Maria's Sicilian Ristorante and Cafe, and to let new establishments have them if they meet certain criteria, is supported by five council members, including Mayor Alfred Hopkins, and probably will be approved.

It should be. The situation that exists now, the result of a misguided compromise with Ward 1 residents, is downright unfair. The eight restaurants that already have 2 a.m. licenses can keep them, but any additional licenses are prohibited. Though economically harmful, this arrangement wouldn't be quite so unfair if the eight licenses were phased out of existence as the businesses changed hands. But the licenses can be sold, which makes these eight businesses worth far more than any other. Harbour House restaurant, which holds one of the precious licenses, is in the process of being sold. The new owner will be able to stay open until 2 a.m.

The fight over these 2 a.m. closings promises to get bitter and nasty. Personal insults about several of the aldermen sponsoring the bills already are flying around. The city doesn't need this. Elected leaders should act quickly and surely. Then, having passed the legislation, they ought to step up downtown law enforcement so the fuel goes out of this fire pronto.

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