Is closing time too early in Baltimore? Hours: Some officials and advocates would extend closing time for clubs and restaurants to cut down on rowdy crowds and enliven city night life.

December 06, 1996|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Brenda Buote, Joan Jacobson and Joe Mathews contributed to this article.

Drinking and late night dancing at Baltimore's clubs and restaurants could go on much later into the night under plans now being considered by city officials.

The double-barreled proposals would permit clubs that offer live entertainment, such as dancing, and restaurants serving liquor to remain open beyond the presently required 2 a.m. close. Some think those hours should be extended to 4 a.m.

Keeping clubs open later would be intended, its backers say, to help stem late night violence and loitering by giving patrons the chance to trickle out of the clubs instead of leaving in a boisterous, disruptive crowd.

The change in hours for restaurants also is seen as an attraction to tourists seeking more to do at night locally.

Yesterday, the City Council voted to create a task force to assess ways to enliven Baltimore's night life. One state delegate is drafting legislation to allow the later hours at liquor establishments. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said he, too, is studying the later closing-hour plan and would not immediately oppose it.

At the same time, some city residents, who already complain about the noise from nightclubs, are upset that the hours could be extended. Others think the idea might work.

"Well, then, [the mayor] just ought to let them stay open until 6 a.m.," said Mary Lou Kline, head of the City- Wide Liquor Coalition, sarcastically. "Then they could come out and be on the streets while we're trying to go to work."

Council President Lawrence A. Bell III said the task force would report back to the council within 60 days.

State Del. Talmadge Branch of Baltimore, said he planned to meet soon with the mayor to discuss amending state law to allow downtown restaurants to serve liquor late into the night.

To capitalize on new convention business, Branch said, the city should have more to offer at night.

"It appears that with the new state-of-the-art convention center here, we don't have that much entertainment to hold that kind of a crowd," Branch said.

With plans still in the early stages, Schmoke said he is asking for more discussion of the idea.

"This is something that might work downtown and might not work for neighborhoods," Schmoke said yesterday. "But we need to have further discussion about this, and I'm encouraging the council, legislators and the operators of these bars to come together and discuss this."

Baltimore's night life has been at the center of a controversy for the past few weeks as city leaders continue their attack on illegally operating clubs, many of which featured explicit adult enter- tainment. Several have been shut down for operating without the proper permits.

Increased attention is being paid to illegal nightclubs after two people were fatally shot last month outside Volcano's on Greenmount Avenue. That club had operated without a proper zoning permit for adult entertainment.

The crackdown on illegally operating clubs will continue this weekend, Schmoke said.

Bell said yesterday that the proliferation of illegal nightclubs speaks to a larger issue of night life in Baltimore.

"It is not going to go away," Bell said. "I want to find ways to protect the neighborhoods. We need to safely accommodate" increased nightclub hours.

Bell's task force will include representatives from the council, mayor's office, planning and zoning departments and the club owners.

"I would prefer that we find nonresidential areas that can be zoned [for extended night life] so we could get around neighborhood complaints," Bell said.

Community reaction has been diverse.

"I think the law would make a difficult situation impossible," said Jennifer Etheridge, president of the Fells Point Homeowners Association. "Residents look forward to going to sleep at 2 a.m. ++ on Friday and Saturday nights.

Frank Lewis, president of the neighborhood group in Curtis Bay, which has several bars and nightclubs, reacted angrily: "Don't we have enough trouble already? Is the mayor going to come down here and patrol the streets for us at 4 in the morning?"

Ron Furman, owner of Max's on Broadway, a popular tavern on South Broadway, said: "One of the biggest problems I have is that at 2 a.m. we have to push people out onto the street. It's mass exodus." A change in the law, he said, could end up "relieving some of the congestion on the streets."

Wayne Davis, owner of Paradox, a Russell Street restaurant and dance club that often did not shut down until 6 a.m., will have no more late night dances. Last week, on the club's fifth anniversary, city officials made Davis stop the dancing at 2 a.m.

Davis said that because the bulk of his crowd appears after midnight, the law severely hampers his business. "I feel there is a need for extended hours," Davis said. "We have to be competitive with other cities" that allow clubs to stay open later.

Pub Date: 12/06/96

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