Time for night life decisions City entertainment: Flurry of activity by three separate entities needs coordination.

February 24, 1997

THE MAYOR, the City Council and at least one state legislator have been separately mapping the future of late-night entertainment in Baltimore. The need for a more coordinated effort became glaring a few weeks ago when state Del. Talmadge Branch had to abruptly pull back proposed legislation to create an entertainment district for downtown hotels. He was told the idea might conflict with the work of the council's Night Life Task Force.

The panel, chaired by Fifth District Councilwoman Stephanie Rawlings, has since issued a preliminary report but it doesn't make recommendations about either the entertainment zone surrounding Inner Harbor hotels that Mr. Branch envisions or the "African-American Georgetown" along Howard Street that Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke keeps mentioning.

The task force report does have merit, however, as a starting point for comprehensive changes in city zoning ordinances and state liquor-service laws that have become outdated. These changes, which would require cooperative actions by the mayor, council and state legislature, might make after-hours entertainment possible in desired city locations without creating special nightclub districts.

The city Planning Commission reported to the task force that current zoning law doesn't even define restaurants, taverns and bars. Nightclubs have opened as restaurants, but serve little food. And while it may be desirable to have large rock-and-roll clubs located in industrial areas, that type of entertainment is not listed permitted use in those zones. Nor does the zoning code address the open-air entertainment that some bars want to provide.

The city's 50-year-old Milk Bar Law certainly needs to be reassessed. Loosely enforced, it prohibits the sale of food and beverages any place other than movie theaters between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. And the city liquor board needs to reconsider its policy (it's not a law) requiring bars to put everyone out at 2 a.m. Allowing bars to stay open later while not serving liquor might help those neighborhoods defiled by the rush of inebriated celebrants who seek relief in the bushes because the bar bathroom is no longer available. Having identified rules that may need changing, it's time city officials defined what Baltimore night life should be.

Pub Date: 2/24/97

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