Mayor Martin Chavez wants two things, he says. "I want everyone to be safe. And I want everyone to make a lot of money."
He’s got a plan. He unveiled an option for Downtown bar owners that Chavez says will help patrons get home safely.
As the night nears closing time, drinkers race against the clock to finish their beverages. Patrons are kicked out around 1:30 a.m. and must find a way home among the hundreds of people filling the streets at that magic hour. Chavez wants to mitigate the apparent chaos that ensues when bars close and Albuquerque partiers spill onto the sidewalk on weekend mornings.
At a meeting on Monday, July 20, Chavez told a collection of Downtown bar owners that liquor establishments could stay open later on Friday and Saturday nights. Through an agreement reached with the state, bars would still have to stop serving alcohol at 1:45 a.m., but they wouldn't have to give customers the boot until 3:30 a.m.
Chavez said at the meeting the extra time would allow bar-hoppers to wait for a second wave of cabs to come pick them up. They could also use the extra 90 minutes to sober up enough to drive home safely. Theoretically, fewer people would be driving at 2 a.m. if some folks stayed to hang out at their favorite watering hole.
“Downtown is already safe.”
Chief of Police Ray Schultz
For now, only Downtown bars can take advantage of the voluntary 3:30 a.m. closing time. Depending on how successful the program is, it could be expanded to other parts of the city, according to Chief of Police Ray Schultz.
Chavez said he hopes bars will make some extra cash by selling nonalcoholic drinks and food during the extended hours. Clubs would have to have to get the appropriate licenses to sell food if they don't already have them.
Bar owners can start sending letters to the state asking for the right to keep their doors open longer on weekends. Downtown Action Team representatives at the meeting said establishments could start operating under the new hours by the end of the month, pending approval from the state. No minors will be allowed in the bars even after the liquor is pulled off the counters.
Burt's Tiki Lounge owner Kim Wong says he thinks the city's new rules are a good idea. But he's not sure if his bar will stay open later or serve food. "We haven't decided yet," Wong says. "We certainly would want to consider it."
Chief Schultz says the plan won't create any new challenges for his police force. Officers working the graveyard shift don't get off until about 8 a.m., Schultz says, so they'll be around when people leave at 3:30 a.m. And DWI specialists will still work Downtown until 5 a.m.
Fewer people milling around Downtown will ease fears about the area, Schultz predicts. "Downtown is already safe," he says. "There's a perception that it's not, because of all the people that come onto the street at 2 a.m."