Bars to fight 2 a.m. limits

Owners call Annapolis' lid on late closings unfair, `illegal'

November 21, 2007|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,Sun reporter

Annapolis bar owners, upset over a city council vote to keep a moratorium on granting 2 a.m. liquor licenses, said they are planning to push for change in city government because of what they believe is inequitable treatment.

Their comments came yesterday after the city council failed to pass a bill Monday night that would have allowed more 2 a.m. liquor licenses downtown.

Alderwoman Classie G. Hoyle, a Ward 3 Democrat who sponsored the legislation, attempted to postpone a vote on the issue, saying more research on the issue was needed. The fight over the liquor licenses has dragged on for more than a decade in the Annapolis political world and was dubbed "the bar wars."

Her move, however, was rejected by the council, forcing a vote, which resulted in the dismissal of the bill.

Hoyle, who has said she proposed the legislation in the name of equity for local establishments, did not respond to calls for comment yesterday.

According to city code, most establishments must stop selling alcoholic beverages by midnight. But some bars in the downtown historic district and other locations are allowed to remain open until 2 a.m.

A moratorium on 2 a.m. liquor licenses was granted in the early 1990s at the urging of Ward 1 residents.

Businesses that already held the 2 a.m. licenses were grandfathered in, but new ones have been forced to close by midnight, a rule that they say puts them at a disadvantage.

Of the 110 establishments in the city with liquor licenses, 45 have 2 a.m. licenses, a majority of those in the downtown area that makes up Ward 1.

Chris Fox, owner of Sly Fox Pub, and Vincent Quinlan, owner of Castlebay Irish Brew Pub and Restaurant, both located downtown, are leading the charge among business owners in the push for an increase in 2 a.m. licenses.

"It's inherently wrong," said Quinlan, adding that he plans to sue the city for discrimination. "It's illegal and it's discriminatory. This is not an equal playing field. And it's a disgrace to have this go on. It means we have to empty this place out at 11:30. They all walk 30 yards down the street and go to a 2 a.m. bar."

Fox, who said a lawsuit is a "possibility," said he and others plan to show their dissatisfaction with the council in the political arena.

"We're going to see who is pro-business and who is likely to vote the right way, and we're going to get the bars and our customers on board to support the people who will do the right thing and not say one thing and do another," Fox said.

"That's the way for us to ensure that we get business equity and fair practices is to be politically active and get the bar patrons politically active so that they can make a difference," Fox said.

Alderman Samuel E. Shropshire, a Ward 7 Democrat, who voted against the bill's postponement, said that while he sympathizes with business owners such as Quinlan and Fox, the city first needs to get a handle on the public safety issues that arise around drinking establishments - underage drinking, drunken driving and drunken altercations.

"We shouldn't add any additional bar licenses downtown anywhere until we have the behavior of certain bars under control," Shropshire said.

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