Earlier in July, a story came out of Seattle about an 8-point plan from Mayor Mike McGinn called “The Seattle Nightlife Initiative”. It is an attempt by the mayor to support and encourage nighttime business development in Seattle, while appropriately ensuring the safety and well-being of Seattle residents. The cornerstone of the plan is the extension of tavern hours beyond the current 2:00 AM closing time. Here is the mayor reflecting upon the impetus for his plan:
“This change is being considered in response to the current system, which by unintended consequence encourages overindulgence while simultaneously pushing thousands of patrons on the streets with limited resources to effectively manage the activity. By transitioning to a flexible hours system, there may be an opportunity to improve Seattle’s quality of life by eliminating issues of public safety and nuisances associated with current closing times.”
This story prompted me to interview Mayor Jim Schwantz, of Palatine, one of twelve Chicago suburbs with a population exceeding 60,000 people. Palatine is an interesting case study because it is a very diverse suburb (over 60 languages are spoken in homes of its high school students), with over 60% of its population between the ages of 21 and 62. Palatine is also the long-time home of a popular Irish Pub, modeled after “the original” Durty Nelly’s, which is nestled in the very shadow of Bunratty Castle in Ireland.
To facilitate our discussion about the Seattle story, Mayor Schwantz pointed me toward the Palatine City Ordinances, which list twenty-one different types of liquor licenses (Class “A” through Class “PS”). These license categories cover a full-range of possible alcohol vendors — from taverns to grocery stores, microbreweries, special events, hotels, restaurants, and even a category called “Institutional Conference Center” (Class “M”), which mentions the area’s community college, William Rainey Harper, by name. I was struck by the length, detail, and complexity of the total code which governs the sale of liquor. I was also struck by the fact that the Palatine code requires licensing of all those involved in liquor “dispensing” – not just owners, but even “bouncers”. That was of particular interest because the Seattle plan refers to the need to “train” bouncers. Obviously, Palatine already has significant leverage over bouncers.
In contrast with Seattle, Mayor Schwantz indicates that the current economic environment in Palatine appears to be dampening the need for “extending” the existing approved bar hours. He reports that two establishments have submitted a request for permission to downgrade their licensing from the more expensive “late hours” license to the more economical “standard“ license. Evidently, the marginal additional number of bar customers drawn to later bar hours can not cover the marginal costs (payroll, utilities) of staying open longer.
Another major factor here is that fact that (in contrast to Seattle) Palatine’s current liquor ordinance already allows for weekend liquor sales beyond 2:00 AM (before the year 2005, the mandatory closing hour was 4:00 AM; since then, 3:00 AM has been the closing hour provided for through a “late hours” license).
There has been one recent additional “wrinkle” in the Palatine tavern scene. Earlier this year, there was word that a particular establishment in the center of town was contemplating a request for permission to offer live outside entertainment late into the night. Mayor Schwantz reports that a specific request has not yet been presented to the Council. Therefore, only time will tell if such a request is ever brought forward. Meanwhile, it is worth noting that the sanctioned schedule for the annual “Taste of Palatine Fest” includes a cut-off of live entertainment at Midnight on Friday and Saturday, and 8:00 PM on Sunday.
The Mayor wrapped up our discussion by noting that the City Council will be reviewing these policies during August, in an attempt to ensure that existing regulations are congruent with existing community needs and circumstances.