Thousands of Mobilians headed downtown to the TenSixtyFive Festival last weekend and it couldn’t have been more perfect. The weather was glorious. The music was phenomenal. And all of our hard-working downtown restaurants came together with festival organizers to make the atmosphere even more “perfect-er,” if you will.
There were food trucks in parking lots adding a little extra flavor to the mix. And many downtown establishments set up tables on the sidewalks, as they have done for some time, allowing festival-goers to enjoy the weather and music at the same time.
It had a very urbane, almost European kind of vibe. The kind of cool, hip city you are happy to call home and certainly a testament to “Mobile Momentum.”
But that momentum almost came to an abrupt halt as the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC) decided to suddenly start enforcing a decades-old law which prevents restaurant owners from serving alcohol on public rights of way. In other words, none of the fabulous sidewalk seating we have all been enjoying for years now during festivals, Mardi Gras and artwalks would be allowed.
The city was at least able to reach a “one-time limited agreement” with the ABC Board so this would not be enforced during TenSixtyFive. And other cities have been able to work around it by granting licenses to businesses to use public rights of way as long as some sort of fencing could be erected, though that is not as easy for a historic city like Mobile.
Downtown Mobile Alliance spokesperson Carol Hunter said they were hopeful they would be able to reach a long-term solution with the board or through changing the laws legislatively, which is encouraging, I guess, but we all know just how long it takes to remove bureaucratic red tape once it is stuck all over everything. At least there is hope, though.
But the real question is, why are we even having to deal with this in the first place? Was it creating a huge problem? Had there been massive complaints of soccer moms on Girls’ Night Out guzzling red wine on city sidewalks and then refusing to leave?
Councilman Levon Manzie, who represents the district, has told media he hadn’t received a single complaint on this. The only reason I have seen given to media by the ABC Board is that one new compliance officer noticed a “couple of Mobile restaurants” where tables and chairs “had taken over a portion of the sidewalk.” This doesn’t sound like cause for alarm or an urgent need for a massive enforcement effort. Ask the folks to scoot or remove a table or two. Problem solved. Carry on.
The other argument made by the ABC Board is that it is harder to control tables and alcohol distribution in a public space. They say a customer could order something at a table and then an underaged kid could wander up and drink some of it. I don’t understand this logic either because apparently they are saying it would be OK for a patron to go inside and order something at the bar and then come back outside and enjoy said libation at a sidewalk table. The server just couldn’t bring it out.
Well … wouldn’t it be EASIER to prevent drinks from getting into underage hands if a server was put in charge of a section and was responsible for checking IDs at his or her tables? It seems like the way they are suggesting now makes it much easier for a random dude patron to go inside and buy a Malibu and Pineapple for a 20-year-old girl and bring it out to her than if you had a server responsible for making sure everyone in his or her “sidewalk section” had proper ID.
I don’t know. Again, if this had actually ever presented any real problems, maybe we would have a better understanding of what horrible things needed to be addressed.
And they have also stated it would be harder to remove drunken, unruly people from these outside areas. But again, wouldn’t it be easier for the cops to remove a 350-pound belligerent drunk man from an outside area than having to deal with all of those pesky doorways and tables and barstools and people who are crowded inside an establishment? Furthermore, aren’t they already doing that? I see plenty of folks booked for public intoxication.
When asked why they have just now decided to enforce this antiquated law, ABC spokesman Dean Argo said they had hired 16 new compliance officers earlier this year who have been tasked with licensing and compliance checks. Previously enforcement duties fell to officers under the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, and those officers pulled double duty as both ABC agents and state troopers, so they really didn’t have much time to do this.
So when they were understaffed, no one worried about this. But now that we were somehow able to hire 16 new state employees — even though we were so broke we had to use/waste BP money to shore up our Medicaid system — they are creating problems that haven’t even been problems to address.
Sounds about right for the Yellowhammer State.
Look, I know these men and women are just trying to do their jobs and if there are stupid laws on the books, then that is not their fault. But when you don’t enforce a law for 40 years, then you suddenly do, it breeds resentment, to say the least, from both the business owners who have invested money in these outdoor areas and the patrons who have been enjoying them.
I mean, I think it’s still technically illegal to wear high heels in downtown Mobile. Is that next?
I’m a little concerned we are about to head back to all of the shenanigans of 2009 and 2010 when our ABC agents had a little too much time on their hands. If you remember standing outside filling out stupid ID cards for private clubs and then also watching these clubs being raided by ABC agents in SWAT gear while you were out on a date night with your husband, you will be concerned too. It was so ridiculous and over the top, we had a parody of it at the Nappie Awards one of those years.
And this was also around the time their said shenanigans made national news (and the state a laughing stock) because the Board banned the sale of Cycles Gladiator wine because their label contained a classic piece of French art with a “nude nymph” on it. There was not even a nipple showing and the board ruled the label “immodest” and banned it.
But luckily they did find nipples to deal with elsewhere. A mural depicting tribal women at the Zebra Lounge on Dauphin Island Parkway was, according to the ABC Board, also a little too racy for bar patrons to have to endure on the DIP. They made them paint pasties over their nips.
And, ladies and gentlemen, this is what we spend our money on in this state. Not education. Not Medicaid. Not improving infrastructure. But making sure nipples in murals in dive bars aren’t showing and that people can’t enjoy a bottle of Cycles Gladiator wine at a sidewalk café. Sounds reasonable.
Again, enforcement has been selective at best, which is what is so aggravating, so they’ll probably just stop being so worried about all of this again in a year or two. But it is time to get these dumb, antiquated laws off the books once and for all.
If Alabama as a whole can’t manage to get anything passed because some legislator from the sticks thinks his pastor would disapprove of classical French boobies on wine labels, then let’s get our local delegation to get some Class 2 municipality bills passed that would exempt Mobile from this insanity.
It’s the only way I see for us to keep all of our magnificent “momentum” going.