City compromises on liquor licenses

Council votes to allow all bars to be open until 2 a.m.

The six Springfield bars allowed to be open until 3 a.m. on weekends will see their closing times moved to 2 a.m. on Jan. 1 and beyond instead of the 1 a.m. closing that originally was proposed. Bars that were previously required to close at 1 a.m. will now have the option to stay open until 2 a.m.

The new regulations for liquor licenses resulted from a compromise proposal approved June 18 in an 8-2 vote by the City Council after emotional testimony from members of the public – almost all of whom said they appreciated the compromise but opposed a change in the status quo.

“This ordinance should not pass, and we’re not being silent,” said Matthew Mauldin, 47, a Springfield resident and patron of Clique, a 3 a.m. bar at 411 E. Washington St. that caters to the gay, bisexual and trans community.

click to enlarge City compromises on liquor licenses
Springfield resident and Clique patron Matthew Mauldin tells City Council members on June 18 that he appreciated a compromise that would require bars in the city to close at 2 a.m. or earlier, rather than the 1 a.m. closing that was originally proposed for all taverns. But he said the council shouldn't eliminate 3 a.m. bar licenses.
Most of the audience of about 100 people, some of whom owned or worked in 3 a.m. bars, clapped loudly after Mauldin said that even a 2 a.m. closing “would negatively affect all of us, both fiscally and personally. It invades my safe space, and every citizen of Springfield will recognize it, and we will remember that come election time.”

The compromise was put forth by Mayor Misty Buscher, who proposed doing away with the longtime 3 a.m. licenses amid public safety concerns surrounding violence in and near 3 a.m. bars. The original ordinance was cosponsored by Buscher and five of the 10 alderpersons.

The compromise was crafted after patrons, workers and owners of the 3 a.m. bars packed the council chamber June 11 to protest the expected loss of revenue and loss of safe late-night gathering places.

The public-safety risks will only increase after June 30, when the Sangamon County Board’s April 8 decision to prohibit bars outside Springfield and other municipalities from remaining open until 3 a.m. takes effect, the mayor said.

Jason McKemie, owner of The Gin Mill & Lounge, a 3 a.m. bar at 235 S. Fifth St., said the compromise will reduce a market niche that 3 a.m. bars occupy in the downtown area and use in attracting visitors from other parts of Springfield and other communities to a downtown that struggles economically.

Deputy Police Chief Andrew Dodd said the higher number of calls for police at most 3 a.m. bars compared with 1 a.m. bars is “statistically significant,” even after adjusting for homeless people who cause problems at downtown bars.

But McKemie said: “The 3 a.m. bars aren’t a public-safety issue. I appreciate the amendment. My concern is that this will ultimately hurt downtown in some respects. It will take one tool out of our toolbox.”

Barry Friedman, owner of another 3 a.m. bar, The Alamo, 115 N. Fifth St., continued to predict job cuts, even with the 2 a.m. compromise.

“People are not really coming downtown,” he said. “The 3 a.m. license was a reason for people to come downtown. Now there is no reason to leave their end of town.”

Alamo manager Jonathan Clarke said more than 1,000 people have signed petitions supporting the city retaining 3 a.m. bar licenses. Clarke said the current 3 a.m. bars are being punished for problems associated with establishments that have since closed.

But Police Chief Ken Scarlette, who backed the original 1 a.m. closure proposal and the 2 a.m. compromise, said that’s not the case.

“I’m completely in support of our city making downtown a vibrant community and seeing it thrive,” he said. “The last thing I’m about as the chief of police is punishing anyone. This is about me trying to prevent and be proactive in our response … to eliminate problems from coming in our community.”

Voting in favor of the compromise were the five original cosponsors, alderpersons Chuck Redpath of Ward 1, Jennifer Notariano of Ward 6, Erin Conley of Ward 8, Jim Donelan of Ward 9 and Ralph Hanauer of Ward 10. Also voting for the amended ordinance were Larry Rockford of Ward 4, Lakeisha Purchase of Ward 5 and Brad Carlson of Ward 7.

Voting “no” were Shawn Gregory of Ward 2, who has one 3 a.m. bar, Unique’s Bar and Grill, in his ward, and Roy Williams of Ward 3.

The mayor, who often only votes to break ties, didn’t vote on the proposal.

Williams, who doesn’t have any 3 a.m. bars in his ward, said he still opposes a “mass-punishment mentality.”

Hanauer said the compromise “will be good for the safety of the citizens of Springfield and provide us better police protection during all hours of the night outside of downtown.”

Allowing all bars in the city to close at the same time will eliminate the “funnel of people” leaving other Springfield bars at 1 a.m. and traveling to 3 a.m. bars, Scarlette said. People from Decatur and other communities who come to Springfield’s 3 a.m. bars also will have fewer reasons to travel here, Scarlette said. The compromise will reduce police resource allocation issues associated with 3 a.m. bars, he said.

The latest Decatur bars can stay open is 2 a.m. Most bars in Peoria can stay open until 2 a.m., and some downtown Peoria establishments can remain open until 4 a.m. The latest that bars can stay open in Champaign is 2 a.m.

Purchase – whose ward includes The Alamo, Clique, Celtic Mist Pub and The Gin Mill, four of the six bars that currently have 3 a.m. licenses – previously told Illinois Times she was “hoping to table the ordinance so we can find other solutions to the concerns.”

She said she ended up voting for the compromise because it appeared there were enough votes on the council to support the original proposal to close all bars at 1 a.m.

“I know it’s not favorable,” she told the audience June 18 in reference to the compromise. “Let’s just try this.”

Friedman said reducing downtown bar closing times will be counterproductive to the city’s efforts to attract more conventions and visitors to the downtown. Lawmakers, legislative staffers and lobbyists also frequent downtown bars between 1 and 3 a.m. when the General Assembly is in session, Friedman said.

He estimated that between 40% and 55% of his bar’s weekly revenue is generated between 1 and 3 a.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Scott Dahl, director of the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, said there’s no data to indicate whether doing away with 3 a.m. bar license will lead to Springfield losing conventions.

The availability of 3 a.m. bars “never comes up” in the city’s discussions with organizations scheduling their conventions in Springfield, Dahl said.

The ordinance also would eliminate the temporary 3 a.m. licenses that all Springfield bars can apply for so they can stay open that late during the Illinois State Fair. Those temporary licenses now will be available for 2 a.m. closing times, beginning in 2025.

Buscher said she didn’t have a conflict of interest in sponsoring the ordinance even though her husband, Mike Buscher, has an ownership interest in two Chatham bars with 1 a.m. closing times – The Range Bourbon & Brew and AJ’s Corner.

Springfield Corporation Counsel Greg Moredock wouldn’t give a legal opinion on the matter. But Buscher said, “I don’t have any ownership of anything.”

After Springfield bans 3 a.m. liquor licenses, Buscher said she doesn’t think bars in small towns near Springfield will see fewer customers leaving their bars.

“There are actually 213 (liquor) licenses in the city of Springfield where you can go on any given day and have a cocktail, so I highly doubt that the two establishments you’re trying to reference that he has a portion of ownership – and they’re not 100% his – would be affected,” she said.

Friedman, The Alamo owner, said he also owns a bar in Chatham and has seen customers there leave to drink late into the evening at Springfield’s 3 a.m. bars.

Dean Olsen

Dean Olsen is a senior staff writer for Illinois Times. He can be reached at:
[email protected], 217-679-7810 or @DeanOlsenIT.

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