Bar owners who wish to stay open until 4 a.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays would have to pay a $40,000 fee under a proposal to be considered at Wednesday’s East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council meeting.
Some bar owners say the proposed annual fee to stay open an additional six hours a week is too onerous for any business other than a casino.
Councilman Ulysses “Bones” Addison, who in the past has supported measures that curb alcohol use, is sponsoring the proposal. He did not return phone calls Wednesday seeking comment.
Kerry Andersen, of Pinnacle Entertainment, which owns the L’Auberge Casino, said in a statement, “The ordinance will clearly help L’Auberge Baton Rouge compete as a regional destination. We compete with New Orleans and Gulf coast casinos where alcohol is served 24/7 as part of the total vacation experience and this effort offers our guests the same amenities.”
Patrick Brown, the general manager of the Belle of Baton Rouge Casino and Hotel, said he wasn’t aware of the ordinance and needed time to think about it before commenting.
Representatives from Hollywood Casino could not be reached Wednesday for comment.
Jack Warner, the owner of Happy’s Irish Pub, Roux House and Walk-Ons Bistreaux and Bar, said the $40,000 fee “eliminates 99 percent of the restaurants and bars out there.”
Warner continued, “It’s meant to help casinos, possibly even strip clubs, but I don’t know if we as restaurant/bar owners could apply for a $40,000 permit.”
Warner said he wasn’t interested in keeping his establishments open that late regardless.
“Nothing good happens after 2 a.m.,” he said, referring to the current closing time for bars.
John Smith, president of the Downtown Business Association, said the association sees the value of allowing businesses to stay open later but opposes the hefty fee that would be required.
“The fee is more of a penalty than anything else,” Smith said. “Some of the businesses are operating on small margins already.”
David Remmetter, the owner of Chelsea’s Cafe, said he couldn’t afford the fee, but still supports the measure.
“I don’t see it being feasible for Chelsea’s, but do I think it would be great for the city? Yeah,” he said.
On Wednesday, the Metro Council’s finance and executive committee forwarded the 4 a.m. closing proposal to the full council without discussion and without a recommendation. The council is expected to vote next week on the measure, which faces opposition from several Metro Council members and the city police chief.
Councilman Trae Welch said he does not support extending the bar hours and took issue with the fee.
“By paying a fee to waive our laws, what that tells me is, what other laws do we have for sale in this parish?” Welch said.
Next week the council also will reconsider Councilwoman Alison Gary’s amendment that would allow bars to open on Sundays from 11 a.m. until midnight and allow grocery and package liquor stores to sell alcohol before 11 a.m. on Sundays.
Councilman Chandler Loupe said he would support Gary’s alcohol ordinance change, but not Addison’s out of concern for public safety.
“I see Sunday sales more of a restaurants and football games and Sunday brunch kind of thing,” he said.
Councilman Scott Wilson also said he could support Gary’s ordinance but not Addison’s.
“I think 2 a.m. is late enough,” he said.
Last week, Wilson was with the majority of council members who initially voted against Gary’s Sunday ordinance. The council ultimately voted to defer the vote to next week.
Wilson said he mistakenly voted against it because he thought they were voting on a different version of the ordinance.
Gary said she doesn’t mind allowing bars to stay open until 4 a.m. but wasn’t sure if she would support Addison’s bill because of the permit fee attached.
She also said she is concerned Addison’s alcohol ordinance change could potentially derail her own proposed change.
“I’m just trying to remind people that mine is different and has nothing to do with this 2 (a.m.) to 4 (a.m.) permit,” she said. “That was not my focus at all.”
Smith said downtown businesses are more concerned that Gary’s amendment passes.
“For our membership, that ability to open on Sundays is more critical than staying open until 4 in the morning,” Smith said.