So it's been an, um, eventful week to own a bar in downtown Raleigh.
First we learned that the three Paddy O'Beers co-owners (including Zack Medford, who has become something of a spokesman for the bar crowd) were charged with destruction of city property for unbolting a city-owned bench from the sidewalk and moving it 10 feet. Then, on Friday night, social media was ablaze with complaints about a downtown police state and warnings given for all manner of things, some of which seemed farcical, all of which were allegedly conspiring to drive down sales. Then, on Saturday night, The News & Observer dropped its lengthy disquisition on downtown revelry under the web headline "Does downtown Raleigh have a drinking problem?" And finally, on Tuesday evening—after we go to press, natch—bar owners will make their case to City Council, yet again, that this crackdown is screwing with their livelihoods.
Lots of excitement, then.
Let's break it down. First, police presence. There's no question that police and fire officials have been more active since Aug. 14, the first night the new Private Use of Public Spaces ordinance was in effect. Part of it was necessary: Someone needs to make sure the bars are aware of the new rules. Indeed, over the first two weeks of the ordinance, the city inspected 32 establishments and issued 26 warnings—no citations yet—related to the ordinance as well as things like occupancy limits. (The city says it won't have records on this weekend's citations and warnings until Tuesday evening.)
But there's another aspect: Throughout the PUPS process, bar owners complained that the city had been intentionally lax in enforcing the existing rules. The increased police presence seems a reaction—You want better enforcement? Here you go.
This heightened enforcement, which may or may not peter out in coming weeks, hasn't only targeted bars with PUPS permits. But it has produced some rather odd results.
Darren Nigel Bridger, the owner of London Bridge Pub—which doesn't have any sidewalk seating, but rather a patio on private property out back—posted on Facebook that a fire marshal stopped by Friday night and pointed out a raft of violations, including things like the border on a patch of grass on the back patio, which was apparently too high off the ground, and his apparently illegal cornhole game: "Because your boards are not floodlit I could consider your beanbags missiles,'" he fumed, quoting the fire marshal. "I am not kidding you people. Maybe we should douse our cornhole bags in gasoline and set them aflame to validate his stupidity."
(Raleigh Fire Department records indicate that officials visited London Bridge on Aug. 28 to address overcrowding. No fines were issued. There's no mention in the RFD inspection report of illicit cornhole.)
Even though he doesn't have a sidewalk patio, Bridger says his sales have suffered mightily since the new rules have been in place, down something like 40 percent Friday. That's a common refrain. Medford shared a graphic of Coglin's sales since the beginning of the year. In mid-August, they fell off a cliff.
"People don't feel comfortable drinking in a bar when you have police & fire inspectors shining flashlights in their face," Medford texted.
Adam Lindstaedt, who owns the music venue The Pour House, also took to Facebook to complain about the weeks-long battle he's been having over whether he's allowed to have an outside cash register, which he says sticks about four inches past his front door. (The Pour House, like Coglin's, declined to renew its PUPS permit after the new rules took hold.)
Moving his doorman where the city wants, he says, allows stragglers to wander in. The first night they tried it, "in two-point-five hours we had to remove more people than we've had to in the last three years," he says.
He thought the issue had been resolved, but then this weekend the cops told him, as he posted to Facebook, that "if we put our door register out tonight they will start hitting us with misdemeanor charges."
The previous weekend, he adds, fire officials stopped a concert mid-song to conduct a routine annual inspection, and more than 100 patrons left. The fire inspection report notes that no violations were found.
"People are on edge," Lindstaedt adds. "The general public feels like they're being treated like children."
Which brings us to the second point: the N&O's handwringing over whether Raleigh drinks too much. The story itself was fine, though we could quibble with the framing. Instead, we'd like to draw your attention to this sentence:
"Raleigh's police and fire departments have increased downtown patrols on nights and weekends by adjusting worker schedules so they wouldn't have to bear additional costs, said John Boyette, a city spokesman."
Which is to say, they're diverting public-safety resources from elsewhere to address this suddenly pressing issue. Hmmm.
Anyway, by now it's quite clear that the new restrictions are adversely affecting downtown nightlife. The question City Council will have to address is whether that's a feature or a bug.
Reach the INDY's Triangulator team at firstname.lastname@example.org.