In May, the idea was straightforward enough: Restrict sidewalk usage to restaurants, not bars, and not too late. After all, that's what Austin does, and, well, if Austin jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, Raleigh might have to do it, too.
This proposal, you'll recall, was roundly and vociferously rejected. The City Council punted to a Hospitality Committee, which reached consensus on most things but split over the crucial issue of whether sidewalks should close at midnight or 2 a.m. on weekends. Earlier this month, Council, on a 5–3 vote, split the difference, settling at 1 a.m. for the initial three-month trial period.
On Aug. 5, the city sent out form letters to bars and restaurants with outdoor-seating permits informing them that their "permit has expired and is up for renewal." That renewal costs $300 and requires an "architectural-quality scaled plan showing the proposed outdoor seating boundary and surrounding streetscape details ...." They have until Sept. 8 to apply.
A good chunk of them won't bother. Zack Medford, co-owner of Paddy O'Beers, Coglin's and Common 414, will only apply for a permit for Paddy O'Beers, and only then because his business model demands it. Otherwise, with the new restrictions, it's not worth it. Dan Lovenheim, owner of Capital City Tavern and Alchemy, says his bars are out, too. And Niall Hanley, who owns the Hibernian, says he's undecided, though he'd "like to stand in solidarity with the boys."
"It just doesn't make any sense," Hanley says. "They'll probably learn that as the process goes on."
On the one hand, this is a practical step. With the new restrictions—including a limit of one person per 15 square feet, the 1 a.m. shutdown and a requirement that a bar manager be on duty after 10 o'clock—the permits just aren't cost-effective. And there's also the fact, Lovenheim says, that "the public doesn't understand this crazy shit. I'm the bad guy" for kicking them off the sidewalk at 1. "It's gonna cause fights. It's gonna cause problems. I'm not gonna do it."
"They've turned it into a gotcha game," Medford adds. "One a.m. is when we are slammed, our staff's attention should be devoted to enforcing real laws that affect public safety instead of chasing people off the patio because we have 21 people out there instead of 20, or the clock just struck 1:01."
Their decision, however, is also a form of protest, or at least a test of the bars' theory that the ordinance will be counterproductive. Indeed, if they don't use the sidewalk permits and the noise and congestion don't abate—or if, as Lovenheim suggests, downtown's problems get worse, because people will still go outside to smoke and talk and the bars will have no way of controlling them—maybe Council will bend in their direction.
And then there's the visceral aspect: "The way in which they've handled this," Lovenheim says, "it's disgusted a whole lot of us."
Still, the end result is that—for now, anyway—the city staffers and downtown residents who wanted bars off the sidewalks three months ago might just get what they want.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Raleigh Bars to city: Piss off"
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