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Cutting the Night Short

Early-closing concept falls as flat as stale beer with Albany bar owners

by Laurie Lynn Fischer on January 19, 2011

It’s 4 AM on Sunday morning at Blue 82, and the loud crowd is still going strong as the lights come on.
“Things start late in this town,” says Mike Ripley, owner of the Pearl Street bar. “Bands don’t start till late. DJs come on late. People have their first drink at one or two in the morning. We’re very busy right up until four. We literally have to take the drinks out of everybody’s hand. Under New York state law, at four o’clock, legally you cannot have any consumption in the bar at all.”

In an effort to improve public safety, Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings has asked bar and club owners to make last call two hours earlier than state law dictates. The mayor proposed changing closing time from 4 AM to 2 AM during separate meetings this month with management of uptown and downtown drinking establishments.

“What we’re hoping to really effect is to reduce the number of victims,” Police Chief Steven Krokoff said.

A statistical analysis of robberies, assaults, aggravated assaults and sexual assaults between 2 AM and 5 AM showed that a majority of crimes—about 60 percent—occurred within 500 feet of bars compared to citywide, the chief said.

“The time period between 11 AM and 2 AM had a much lesser incidence of those crimes,” he said.

Bar owners worry that a 2 AM closing could drive their business to other jurisdictions, such as Troy or Schenectady. Early closing could also lead to rowdy after-hours house parties in residential neighborhoods, they said. Some tavern owners thought crime would persist no matter when the bars close.

“It doesn’t matter what time it is,” said Ginger Berlin, owner of Anna O’Keefe’s. “In my opinion, I think the problem is the college kids. They’re primarily the victims. They get really trashed. They walk and they get mugged. The city is more into community policing instead of policing policing. They need to be a little stricter with the punks that roam the streets. Having more police officers on the streets would help, more patrols even.”

In this tough economy, it’s not just club owners who might lose money if the doors close at 2 AM, said Francis Verret, owner of Red Square, a live entertainment venue on Broadway.

“It’s also a lot of sales tax revenue that the government would lose,” he said. “I personally never want to cut back on potential business hours. As a small business owner, that’s not really a smart idea. If a small business is making $100 per hour, that’s $200 a night lost in the register. If he’s open five nights a week, that’s a large sum of money at the end of the year that might mean the difference between closing and surviving.”

Peter Agostinello, general manager of Water Works on Central Avenue, vowed to campaign against an earlier closing time, claiming it wouldn’t work.

“We don’t feel that closing the bars at 2 AM is going to curtail crime,” he said. “London, England, used to close its bars at 11 PM and there would be a last minute rush at 10:30. Revelers would binge drink, order five pints and a couple shots, and spill out onto the streets. It would be absolute mayhem. They were forcing people into the streets. They weren’t ready to go home that early. They were not given time to wind down. The later they stayed open, the less crime they had.”
A controlled environment is the key, Agostinello believes. For instance, he said, Water Works cards everyone at the door with an age verification machine. It breathalyses and bounces underage patrons who come in smelling of liquor. It also trains its bartenders to detect excessive inebriation and flag drunks without provoking them.

Bar owners and managers have met twice in recent weeks to come up with their own strategies for making things safer, said Chris Pratt, co-owner of the Pearl Street Pub and Dirty Martini Lounge. The group expects to present its ideas to Mayor Jennings within a matter of weeks.

“We’ve taken what the mayor said to heart,” Pratt said. “How can we contribute and also how can the city help us? The city wants to have a thriving downtown nightlife. From a financial standpoint, we’re business owners. Our culture has totally been predicated on going out at 11:30 or 12 o’clock on a weekend. A good percentage of our business is done between the hours of 2 and 4. If we were going to close at 2, we’d have to start shutting down at 1:30. If it were statewide, OK, but in one particular area, it would be a hard thing to swallow.”

Mike Philip is general manager of Jillian’s, a large club on North Pearl Street.

“We’re working with the mayor on finding a solution to make downtown safer and to try and get families and respectable clientele back here,” he said. “Apparently, there’s been more crime than he’s comfortable with. We want downtown to be a place where people can come out to dinner, go see a show and come have a drink after