City Council: Drink faster, drink earlier

Now that the city has mandated a 2:30 a.m. last call for Atlanta nightclubs, don't be surprised to see the space occupied by the Star Bar turn into a black hole.

At least that's what Dave Parker, co-owner of Little Five Points' scruffy rockabilly haven, had tried to tell people while city leaders debated the proposal for earlier bar closings.

"I don't want to give the public the idea that we're shutting our doors next week," Parker explained to CL a few hours before the council vote, which finally came early Tuesday morning. "But at the same time there's a very distinct possibility, a huge possibility, that this'll put us out [of business]."

That's because, as with many Atlanta nightclubs and music venues, the Star Bar does a large chunk of its business — more than 75 percent, Parker says — between the magic hours of 2 a.m. and 4 a.m.

The proposal to cut the taps off at 2 a.m. and close the doors at 3 a.m. underwent an 11th hour (or in this case, 14th hour) amendment that gives barkeeps an extra 30 minutes to ply their trade.

Parker and his partners will give the earlier closing time a go, but he's not optimistic.

"Oh, believe me, we'd do everything short of and probably including selling our kidneys," he says, not laughing. "[But] we just don't see our patrons actually acclimating to it and coming out earlier when Decatur is right down the road."

Which points to one of the predictable injustices of the new ordinance: Although it was introduced by Councilwoman Mary Norwood in reaction to a spate of late-night violence in and around the raucous Buckhead Village, it's the nightclubs located near the city limits that could be hit the hardest.

The earlier closing time likewise is expected to fall especially hard on Little Five Points and East Atlanta Village, whose bars cater largely to underemployed musicians and other night owls.

Parker says he's working with other L5P bar owners to get the area designated as an "entertainment district," which would allow them to set their own rules on such matters as closing times and open-container guidelines.

"The problem is, [that process] can take up to two or three years," he says. "But, you know, by the time that could be passed, you might not have the Star Bar, might not have El Myr, might not have 9 Lives."

And, of course, the measure might not have the OK of the City Council, which certainly seems inclined to burden nightclubs with more, not fewer, restrictions.

In the meantime, he says, bar owners likely will head to court to try to get the new ordinance tossed out or delayed. Even if they fail, there's a built-in measure that calls for the matter to be revisited in a year, so council members can review its effect on crime and nightclub earnings.

Despite the split council vote, Parker didn't get the feeling that city leaders were really paying attention to concerns voiced by him and others at public hearings that rolling back last call would hurt bars financially, hinder tourism and generally make Atlanta a lamer place to live.

"Their minds were made up and they're doing something very political and not really listening to their constituents," he says.

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