It’s not surprising that the Raleigh City Council, faced with some angry bar owners and patrons showing up at committee meetings and council meetings, took its time installing new rules for bars serving patrons on sidewalks downtown. In the end, though, the council was right to set a “curfew” requiring bars to quit serving people on sidewalks at midnight Sunday through Thursday and at 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday. The debate, as a Sunday News & Observer story noted, goes on. The bar owners and their customers are still angry.
A disclosure: Most of these late-night patrons are apparently twentysomethings and thirtysomethings, and I’m a sixtysomething. They go to music shows that start after I’ve hit the bed. They can eat and drink things that would have me hugging a pillow in Rex Hospital. I get that younger folks love the downtown and have the stamina and recuperative powers to drink into the early morning.
But here’s the thing: Those sidewalks are my sidewalks. And they belong as well to the people who live downtown, near the loud bars, and who get up in the morning and see vomit and trash on the sidewalks left by those arguing for their “rights” to party on, but don’t seem to care much about the rights of downtown residents to expect those who visit the neighborhood might leave it like they found it.
To be clear, not every bar patron is a drunk, and not every bar patron throws up or (and here’s the sixtysomething coming out) goes to the bathroom on the sidewalk.
But as evening turns to morning, the chances that the late-staying crowd is going to have some people in it getting out of hand increase. One reason cited by the council for establishing a nighttime parking fee for decks is the need for more money to clean them up because of pollution and vandalism, some of it from bar crowds.
Now, what about the bar owners and their advocates who talk about how the city is sitting on a healthy downtown nightlife and hurting the revitalization of downtown by curbing the late night hours of bars?
Sorry, that’s just wrong. The bar owners want to keep selling drinks and making money. They have an interest in downtown nightlife, but part of that interest is self-interest, so let’s not treat a limit on sidewalk serving hours as some kind of Gestapo-style oppression. C’mon.
Nightlife helps downtown, to a point. But what the city needs downtown is more permanent residents, and different kinds of businesses, retail businesses, and performance venues. It needs things that will draw people of all ages downtown at all times of day and into the evening. Not just twentysomethings and thirtysomethings.
One young fellow who likes the downtown nightlife didn’t buy the complaints of downtown residents about noise and other problems. Said he, “You don’t hear people who live near the airport complaining abut airplanes.”
Yes you do, my young friend. All the time. What he said doubtless brought a smile to many faces ... particularly to those of people who’ve ever lived near an airport.
The Raleigh City Council should not bow to pressure, and must remember that the areas that have been annexed by bars really belong to all of the citizens. If they be labeled party poopers, so be it. But Raleigh is not yet a New York-style “city that never sleeps.” And that’s just fine with the vast majority of the people who live here, including the ones who live downtown.
I may hit the downtown bar scene this weekend, to celebrate my birthday. On Saturday, it could be 10:45 before my head hits the pillow. I know, I know, that’s burning the candle at both ends. But I promise to tell the bars’ disc jockeys to keep the Gordon Lightfoot at a reasonable volume.
Deputy editorial page editor Jim Jenkins can be reached at 919-274-3103 or at firstname.lastname@example.org