St. Charles aldermen, meeting Monday night as the Government Operations Committee, expressed skepticism that downtown bar owners’ efforts to police themselves will prove enough to satisfy residents’ demands that something be done to rein in brawls and public drunkenness downtown.
Aldermen expressed their doubts on an evening when their votes on several related issues seemed to reflect their concerns:
Earlier in the evening, meeting formally as the City Council, aldermen split 8-2 in a vote to approve a Class B3 liquor license for the new owner of L.D. Time Out Sport Bar & Grill, 2051 Lincoln Highway. Fourth Ward Aldermen James Martin and Jo Krieger both voted no on that issue.
While meeting as the Government Operations Committee, aldermen voted 8-1 to recommend formal council approval of a Class A1 liquor license for J&S World Liquors, 311 N. 2nd St. Krieger cast the sole dissenting vote on that issue, while 5th Ward Alderman Ed Bessner abstained.
Voted 10-0 to deny a request by Richard Simpson to increase the capacity of his business, the , from the occupancy level of 218 he agreed to when he obtained his liquor license in February to the capacity of 427 his facility has been rated for by the St. Charles Fire Department.
Simpson said his fledging business is starting to to hit the lower capacity limit, originally set based on parking concerns, and he is having to sometimes turn customers away.
But the timing of his request — a little more than two weeks after the city slapped him with a $1,000 fine for giving away liquor for commercial purposes, and less than 10 days after one of his patrons was cited with having open alcohol outside his bar — could not have been worse. It is unclear whether the city will consider penalties for the latter incident.
“With al due respect, you’ve been cited,” 3rd Ward Alderman Raymond Rogina told Simpson, adding he would favor continuing the probationary period — for all the downtown bars — until the City Council revisits the issue of whether or not to cut back bar hours from 2 a.m. to 1 a.m.
“I cannot support this. You’re going to have to stay clean for a good long time,” said 3rd Ward Alderman William Turned.
Other aldermen expressed similar feelings. Fifth Ward Alderman Maureen Lewis said she did not think an occupancy increase should be considered until the business had been open a full year, and Krieger suggested a probationary period for his license should be extended because of the violation.
Aldermen directed their skepticism about downtown bar owners’ ability to police themselves and make an impact on some of the liquor-related problems in the downtown area after Police Chief James Lamkin introduced Steve Baginski, a St. Charles resident and owner of the
Baginski updated the Government Operations Committee on the status of downtown bar owners’ efforts to form a tavern association that would help assure consistent employee training related to recognizing when patrons are drunk, as well as other efforts tavern owners hope will appease the council and forestall any further consideration of cutting back bar hours.
Specifically, Baginski said the association is setting 1:40 a.m. as “last call” time, when bar doors will be locked to prevent new customers from coming in, and patrons must finish their last drink before leaving promptly at 2 a.m.
Baginski also noted a “banned list” is being put together. The list will be distributed to all association members. Essentially, if a patron causes a problem and then is banned from one downtown bar, he or she will be banned from all downtown establishments and could be charged if caught trying to gain entry to downtown establishments that are association members.
The banned list will not be for public consumption, Baginski said, and it will be instituted by the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. People who are on the list are being notified of that now, he added, so there will be no surprises.
Baginski said many downtown establishments have agreed to be members of the association, and two — Rookies and the Alibi — have agreed to follow the association’s guidelines. He said he is still talking with the owners of The Office and McNally’s Irish Pub about joining the association.
But 2nd Ward Alderman Cliff Carrignan said none of the association’s steps appear to address the overserving of alcohol to bar patrons, and that, he added, was the City Council’s main concern.
Baginski, however, said details about more frequent training for bartenders and alcohol services is still being are still being worked out with the goal of specifically addressing that issue, among others.
Carrignan noted that some of the efforts to address the public intoxication and fighting concerns have targeted penalties for bar patrons and asked specifically whether bars would dismiss employees who overserve alcohol to patrons. Baginski responded that it would be in his own best interests as a downtown business owner to ensure his employees are in compliance.
Ultimately, since the issue was raised in August, Alderman Turner said, the anecdotal evidence and reviews of police reports seem to indicate the tavern owners efforts at policing themselves have had little effect — and that it seems as if the problem may be worsening.
“We like the entertainment of (the downtown area) … but not the alcoholic mess, the fights …,” Rogina said.
“It’s gt to stop,” Martin said.