More than a watering hole

September 14, 1995

It used to be Thursday night. But now it's Wednesday evening. That's when the bar scene in Fells Point starts getting hot. By Saturday night, man, it's smoking. A virtual cornucopia of co-ed camaraderie for all those who like their entertainment by the bottle.

That's great for the bars. It's great for bar patrons looking for the most fun (as in "cheap beer") they can find in town. But it's not good for the people who actually live in Fells Point. Their neighborhood gets treated like some giant patio for every watering hole in the general vicinity.

For Richard C. Shellhorn, the problem is as plain as the satellite dishes he sees atop the Fells Point bars. The dishes have become a metaphor for the proliferation of nightclubs. The ever competitive bars install satellite dishes so they can pick up TV transmissions of ball games and other sporting events that help attract customers.

Mr. Shellhorn loves living near the waterfront. But the bar crowds are driving a lot of his neighbors away. They tie up traffic and park where they're not supposed to. They are noisy. They damage property. They litter and relieve themselves anywhere.

Some say Fells Point residents shouldn't complain. But the neighborhood wasn't always like this. Today there are 49 bars or restaurants with liquor licenses in Fells Point. And would-be "megabar" operators are trying their best to open huge open-air clubs.

Lawmakers are pushing hard to keep the megabars from happening. In the meantime, simpler steps can make Fells Point more livable for its residents. There seems to be a sufficient police presence, at least six officers on weekends. Those officers -- at the risk of offending some inebriated tourist who may decide to spend his money in another town -- have got to get tougher.

No one expects the police to treat the Fells Point beat the same as they would more dangerous areas of the city. Those officers certainly should know, however, that people usually don't break the law unless they think they can get away with it. And too often they're getting away with it in Fells Point.

Fells Point is an entertainment as well as a residential district. And allowances should be made for people who come there to be entertained. But the police should do more for the people who live there. By arresting more drunks and having more illegally parked cars towed, they can make Fells Point a better place for visitors and residents.

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