An Alabama Beverage Control Board crackdown on a years-old state law threatened to dampen the upcoming TenSixtyFive music festival for most downtown restaurants.
Last week, ABC officials told several restaurant and bar owners downtown state law prohibited the sale of alcohol to customers sitting at outdoor tables situated on a public sidewalk, ABC Government Relations Manager Dean Argo said.
Meanwhile restaurants with separate patios, like Moe’s Original Barbecue and Heroes Sports Bar and Grille, would be exempt from the law.
“The patio has to be cordoned off in some way,” Argo said. “There has to be some kind of barrier. If a patio is part of the public sidewalk, or the public can access the patio, it’s not controlled.”
The law is enforced, Argo said, to ensure an establishment can control its premises. As an example, he said removing a customer who has been over-served would be more difficult if the individual is on a public right-of-way. He said ABC officials told owners they’d be happy to work with them on finding a solution.
Matthew Golden, owner of LoDa Biergarten, said a review of the law should be forthcoming. Not only is the timing of this new enforcing problematic, given the upcoming music festival, but bars and restaurants would also be impacted during Mardi Gras, downtown’s most attended event.
“The timing couldn’t be more inconvenient,” Golden said. “Outdoor seating generates millions of dollars. That’s the big thing right now.”
Establishments like LoDa Biergarten, Wintzell’s, T.P. Crockmiers and others would be negatively impacted by the renewed enforcement.
Mary Margaret Monahan, co-owner of T.P. Crockmiers, said they were told by ABC officials they wouldn’t be allowed to serve alcohol outside, despite their tables being underneath a balcony where alcohol can be served.
“There are more people sitting outside now and if they want to order a drink they have to walk inside and then walk outside while their food is getting cold,” she said. “It’s a damper for the whole city.”
Monahan said T.P. Crockmiers was planning to add some kind of barrier underneath the balcony in order to comply.
Argo said the new crackdown is not an example of selective enforcement, instead ABC has been shorthanded for more than a year after agents were put under the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency umbrella. As ALEA officers and not solely ABC agents, Argo said, many worked as state troopers, or in other jobs. In early 2016, ABC hired 16 new licensing and compliance specialists to cover the state’s more than 14,000 licensees.
“With 14,000 licensees in the state, 16 people don’t go very far, or very fast,” he said. “They’re now catching up on compliance checks.”
Late Friday, it appeared Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s office had worked out an agreement with ABC to carry the city through TenSixtyFive. More progress is expected.
“The administration had a constructive conversation with the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board today regarding the enforcement of Ala. Code § 28-3A-17.1,” a statement read. “ABC recognizes that the upcoming TenSixtyFive event is very important to the city of Mobile, its citizens, businesses, patrons and guests. We are in the process of finalizing details that will be disseminated early next week to all restaurant/bar owners in the Downtown Entertainment District. TenSixtyFive will party on and be a great success.”
The administration is also working on a long-term solution, the statement read. Carol Hunter, a spokeswoman for the Downtown Mobile Alliance, said the group is hopeful the city can work out an agreement. She added that some members of the local legislative delegation have pledged to review the law during next year’s regular session with an eye toward exempting bars and restaurants within the city’s entertainment districts.
If a deal can’t be worked out, or if the law isn’t changed, downtown bar and restaurant owners could find it hard to comply and still serve alcohol outside.
Moe’s, for instance, was able to secure a right-of-way agreement with the city, which allowed the establishment to build a patio off the sidewalk, owner Grant Saltz wrote in an email message Friday.
“This took a good bit of time and effort but since we have that ROW permit from the city, the state allowed us to add the patio space to our existing liquor license,” Saltz wrote. “As I understand it there is only one other such ROW permit for a deck downtown.”
Saltz added that establishments with a private deck, not on a public right-of-way would also be exempt.
The process to obtain this permit would be tricky, if not impossible for some spots. While the permit only requires an application be made with the city, the Americans With Disabilities Act requires city sidewalks have 4 feet of clearance.