Tears in our beers

How dispiriting have earlier bar closings been?

So much rumor, innuendo and misinformation is circulating about the city's new earlier bar hours, we figured we'd tackle some of the more common questions regarding the threat against nightlife as we knew it and the murky future of fun.

Q: Since Underground Atlanta can stay open later than the rest of the city by being designated a "special entertainment district," can we extend the same privilege to Virginia-Highland, East Atlanta Village, Crescent Avenue or Little Five Points?

A: Sure we can — when they start serving Slush Puppies in hell. Think about it: Why would the City Council, after rolling back bar hours to rein in Buckhead and every other neighborhood, then turn around and grant special exemptions to the very areas that would compete with the city-owned Underground?

What's more, although the special entertainment district designation is given by the state, it was crafted specifically for Underground, which remains the only entertainment district in Georgia. There aren't likely to be others; state law stipulates that such a district be publicly owned.

Q: Is the Chamber moving its clothespin-and-candle-wax act to Underground, or is it simply gone?

A: Actually, neither, explains Greg Green, general manager of both the decade-old, recently shuttered goth club and its mutant sister, the Masquerade.

"We warned the City Council that the Chamber couldn't survive a 2:30 a.m. last call," he says. "Our peak hours were always between 1:30 and 4 a.m."

Originally, the idea was to relocate the Chamber outside city limits so it could remain open until 4 a.m. But when an opportunity at Underground presented itself, the club's owners decided to open a club there. Although the theme of the new club hasn't been determined, Green says it probably won't involve cat-o'-nine-tails and pasties. "It's got to appeal to downtown tourists," he says.

So with the Feb. 21 closing of the Chamber, intown Atlanta is left without a dedicated goth club. Sorry, gimp.

Q: The area around Five Points is one of the sketchiest parts of downtown, so how does the city expect to keep Underground safe at night?

A: Supposedly, by controlling access. After the regular shops have closed for the night, Underground will become a 21-and-up playground. Bar patrons can get in only through a few select points of entry, where they must show ID and pay what Underground managing partner Dan O'Leary calls a "minimal cover charge," probably about $5.

Arriving by MARTA actually might be safer than it sounds, thanks to the tunnel walkway linking the Five Points station to Underground. Of course, there's abundant parking in Underground's two multistory parking decks — allowing patrons to bypass the panhandlers and junkies at street level and walk straight off the escalator into the subterranean strip of bars. Also, because most of Underground is, well, underground, Buckhead-esque cruising along the surrounding one-way streets isn't likely to be a problem.

Q: What's this I hear about the 2:30 a.m. last call being effective for only a year before the city restores the 4 a.m. closing?

A: It's too soon to tell how the city may feel a year from now. But even though the council made a note to itself to revisit the issue in a year, the prime players aren't having second thoughts. Councilman Howard Shook, who represents Buckhead Village, certainly doesn't sound remorseful: "I had the mayor's support for 2 a.m. closing and a deal with 10 council members, but three of them screwed me on the vote."

Q: What other changes can Atlanta drinkers expect to see?

A: The council is currently revising the city's alcohol laws, ostensibly to iron out inconsistencies. Overseeing the rewrite is Councilwoman Anne Fauver, who says "nothing earthshaking" is likely to come from the changes. She hopes to make the process of getting a liquor license more strenuous, and to crack down on rule-breaking bartenders.

Fauver, by the way, floated a failed bill last year to force Atlanta supermarkets and convenience stores to cut off beer and wine sales at 11:45 p.m., just like package stores. She says she'll consider adding that provision to the new rules. Great.

Q: Do you have any good news for folks who like to stay up late?

A: Um, there should be clear skies this weekend for those who want to take up stargazing.