So by now you've probably heard about the city of Raleigh's brilliant and not-at-all-ham-fisted plan (endorsed by the wagging fingers of The News & Observer's editorial board) to crack down on the scourge of outdoor drinking, by prohibiting some bars—the ones that sell no or little food—from allowing people to drink on public sidewalks outside their bars.
The proposed ordinance, city manager Ruffin Hall has said, would only affect a dozen or so places. But for at least one of them, popular Fayetteville Street hang Paddy O'Beers—which, as the name suggests, serves beer on a patio—it would amount to a death sentence. For other downtown dens of intoxication, like underground cocktail bar Foundation (pro tip: order the sidecar), it could prove a serious drag.
Needless to say, the proposal provoked quite the reaction. It didn't help that everyone learned about it on the Friday afternoon before last Monday's stakeholders meeting before City Council. Bar owners and their supporters turned out en masse, and Council kicked the ordinance to committee. (That committee meeting was held Tuesday afternoon, which is after we go to press but before you read this. Print is dead, etc. But that's why we have a blog, and the news that the thorniest provision of the text seems to be dead as of that meeting.)
At that meeting, city officials said they just wanted to mirror the law in Austin, Texas, which is apparently the city we want to be when we grow up. More than that, though, the proposal seems to stem from the notion, most famously pushed by downtown redeveloper and Empire Properties proprietor Greg Hatem, that the success (and occasional obnoxiousness) of downtown's nightlife has rendered it "unlivable" for the condo-dwellers who would like you drunk little shits to get off their lawns.
And because the proposed ordinance allows outdoor seating for bars that happen to serve food—including Hatem's Raleigh Times—there's a perception, true or not, that perhaps this is the city's way of tipping the scales in favor of a "favorite" son.
Enter the backlash: Last Thursday, a Facebook page called "Boycott Raleigh Times to save sidewalk patios!" popped up and began spreading. (Six hundred and one likes by Monday evening, not bad.) It's the brainchild of Kevin Garofalo, founder of the Raleigh Social Club, a four-year-old group that claims 5,000 members and hosts charitable events at establishments like Paddy O'Beers—places that have helped him raise thousands of dollars for worthy causes, he says.
"The ones who have helped out are the ones being targeted," he says. "I can see what Hatem's doing."
And so, to Garofalo, it is entirely appropriate to hit Hatem where he lives: "To think that Greg Hatem isn't at least a little of the reason that this bill is being voted on is naive. He's made it difficult for other business owners to get sidewalk permits in the past," Garofalo wrote on the Facebook page. "... Here's the thing. The Raleigh Times always has a million folks outside being loud, noisy, sometimes drunk."
(He later added: "I don't want to create a lynch mob, I'm not rallying to boycott his other establishments, and I don't personally know Greg Hatem. If you want to boycott all of empire eats [sic], that's your prerogative.")
But what if Hatem had nothing to do with it—at least not directly?
While Hatem was out of town and couldn't be reached for comment, Empire Properties president Andrew Stewart told the INDY that they learned of the ordinance when everyone else did. "Neither Empire nor Greg Hatem was involved in promoting this text change," he wrote in an email.
That's the same story Hatem told Foundation co-owner Will Alphin. "A lot of folks have been saying Greg Hatem is behind this," he says. "Greg's told me personally that he wasn't."
Of course, Hatem did go before City Council in January to complain that downtown had become too loud and ask for a moratorium on amplified outdoor entertainment permits.
"There is a huge amount of conflict now in the Fayetteville Street district between bar owners and the residents and other businesses," he told the Council. "A large amount of it comes from people not being able to sleep at night and folks having to wake up in the morning to the aftermath of what has happened on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. It's not pleasant."
(At last week's stakeholders meeting, says Seth Hoffman, owner of the Raleigh Wine Shop, an Empire rep was the only person to raise his hand in support of the ordinance. Still, he says, "I take [Hatem] at his word" that he wasn't behind it.)
After the January Council meeting, Hatem told bar owners that he'd been drafted to speak up by downtown residents, Alphin says; this wasn't just his crusade.
"[He said] he spoke on their behalf," Alphin says. "He took a big backlash for it. He's taking another big one right now."
Would someone please, please, please listen to the public's common-sense arguments about Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard? The state transportation department plans to repave and re-stripe the racetrack, giving the city of Durham an opportunity to reduce the number of lanes from five to three and add 21 on-street parking spaces—for free. You can't beat free, right?
Bicyclists, pedestrians and many, many, many drivers whose bad karma requires them to regularly travel the Boulevard (Triangulator included) support the proposal because it would calm traffic and thus make the strip safer and saner.
Yet several business owners, including Shrimp Boats and the Refectory Cafe, oppose the lane reduction because they say it will hurt sales. Reality check: Triangulator—and we're not alone—rarely patronizes restaurants on the Boulevard any more for fear the meal we eat there will be our last. (Our advance directive already specifies that it be two scoops of Vietnamese coffee ice cream from The Parlour.) Fact: The accident rate on the Boulevard is more than three times the national average of other streets of similar size and traffic counts—in this case, 14,000 cars each weekday.
Many other two-and three-lane Durham thoroughfares are thriving: for starters, all of downtown, the Ninth Street District, Durham Central Park.
C'mon, Boulevard businesses, join the party.
Durham City Council is scheduled to vote on the plan Monday, June 15, at 7 p.m., at City Hall.
Finally, from the Public Service Announcements Desk: Before you join the gentrification march on East Durham, check out several short documentaries about the area on Tuesday, June 16, at 7 p.m., at the Durham County Main Library (300 N. Roxboro St.).
For the past two years, filmmakers from the Center for Documentary Studies Video Institute have focused on the neighborhoods of East Durham to create a portrait of the people and places in this part of the city. If the only incentive for moving to (or flipping a house in) this culturally rich, historically significant neighborhood is to capitalize on the years of disinvestment, then please, take your money elsewhere, like one of the hundreds of condos being built near downtown.