Portland seeks end to all-ages nights at bars

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PORTLAND — Public hearings on two bills regulating bar operations will take place on Wednesday in Augusta.

One bill would ban all-ages nights at bars and another would prohibit bar owners from discounting drinks.

The bills, LD 901 and 902, respectively, are sponsored by Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland.

Russell said she has not taken a position on the bills, which were submitted as a courtesy to the city of Portland.

City Council Edward Suslovic said the bills were recommended by the city’s Nightlife Oversight Committee and unanimously endorsed by the Public Safety Committee.

Suslovic said he supports both bills, including LD 901, which would not allow bars to offer all-ages events, even if no alcohol is served.

Suslovic said there were problems last summer when some Old Port nightclubs held chem-free hours prior to opening up to those 21 or older.

“A lot of the kids showed up having consumed alcoholic beverages somewhere else first,” Suslovic said. “So there was a bunch of drunken kids brawling out front.”

The legislation, however, would affect clubs that offer all-age music events and have a Class A liquor license, which does not require full food service.

The Port City Music Hall would have been affected by the bill, but General Administrator Rob Evon said the club is in the process of changing its license.

Evon said the club has installed a full-service kitchen, which will allow it to serve alcohol to people 21 and over while having under-aged patrons attending concerts.

“The legislation wasn’t a catalyst for this,” he said.

Without the new license, the club can only offer all-age shows if it shuts down the bar, Evon said. Bar sales account for about 50 percent of the clubs profits, he said.

So, clubs like the Port City Music Hall, are faced with a decision: Either forgo ticket sales from under-aged music goers, or forgo alcohol sales.

But, if LD 901 is passed it will be the government that will make that decision, since Class A clubs will not be able to offer events to under-aged patrons.

Evon said he believes both bills are examples of government overstepping its boundaries. He said it does not have the right to tell parents how to parent and business owners how to run their businesses.

“I see this type of stuff as the red tape that (Gov.) LePage is supposedly talking about,” Evon said.

Suslovic said it is in the government’s purview to protect the public health, safety and welfare.

“There are what I would call hard-core bars,” Suslovic said. “The reason people go there is to get drunk.”

According to records from the city clerk’s office, there are 28 Class A establishments licensed in the city, including Geno’s Rock Club, Pearl, Rack’s Sports Bar & Grill, Styxx, the Asylum and the Big Easy.

According to its website, Styxx offered 18-and-over dance nights every Tuesday until March 1. No one at the club could be reached Monday to discuss the effect of the proposed laws.

The city is also supporting legislation that would no longer allow bars to offer beer at steeply discounted prices.

Suslovic said the legislation is an attempt to discourage binge drinking brought about by bars offering steeply discounted drinks, such as 25-cent drafts.

“From a public health standpoint, it sends a terrible message,” Suslovic said.

Public hearings at the Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs are scheduled for Wednesday at 1 p.m. in Room 437 of the State House.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter @randybillings