The government is not trying to take your go-cup away.
Or at least that’s what the government wants you to believe.
Rumors of a creeping assault on the idea — regarded in some quarters as more of a civil right — that bar patrons in New Orleans ought to be allowed to grab a plastic cup, fill it with the contents of an unfinished beer or cocktail and hit the street have finally prompted the New Orleans City Council to make a public pronouncement in favor of the status quo.
“We write to clarify a misconception that there is a collective or concerted effort to ban to-go cups,” the council said, admitting that both the City Council and the city Planning Commission have handed down various provisos over the past decade curtailing go-cup use at certain establishments and in certain residential areas.
Even with caveats, the council emphasizes, “There is no blanket prohibition of go-cups.”
As with recent public tussles over noise regulations, the Great Go-Cup Debate is a controversy that touches on a certain suspicion that the city’s rule makers may be intent on turning New Orleans into Houston.
Writing in Vice magazine recently about vanishing drive-through daiquiri shops, one nervous Cassandra warned, “The powers that be have now begun chipping away at to-go drinks in general. Any music clubs that run afoul of city authorities for any reasons now regularly have their go-cup rights taken away.”
Online, the notion that go-cups might be under assault incited a backlash. Via Twitter, one Brian Huddleston told the powers that be “you can have my go-cup when you pry it from my cold, dead drunk fingers!!!”
If this is an overreaction, it is not born strictly of paranoia.
Take Jimmy’s Music Club on Willow Street. The city finally coughed up a new liquor license for the venue a few weeks ago after many months of shuttle diplomacy with the neighbors. But to keep in good standing, Jimmy’s will have to design a soundproofing system, draw up a litter abatement program — and stamp a Jimmy’s logo on all to-go cups.
That’s so neighbors know who is responsible when those cups end up on their lawn. And they will know who to call when it happens because — again, thanks to the City Council — Jimmy’s will have to provide the neighborhood with the cellphone number for the bouncer on duty.
In some cases, the logo rule applies to every beverage purveyor within a whole zone of the city, including the new St. Claude Arts and Cultural Overlay District stretching from Press Street to Poland Street.
On other occasions, the council has found it necessary to implement an outright ban. You will not find any bar along the Freret Street corridor dispensing go-cups, for instance, because they lie within a Cultural Overlay District.
In its statement on Tuesday, the council offered a full-throated defense of its actions: “These provisos protect nearby residents from unnecessary trash in front of their homes by patrons of restaurants and bars.”
Of course, it’s worth noting that even if certain bars or restaurants aren’t allowed to fuel the city’s “go-cup culture,” there is still nothing on the books in New Orleans that prohibits one from taking a stroll out of doors with an alcoholic beverage, an unusual omission.
City code prohibits the use of any “open glass container” for imbibing in the French Quarter. And the owners of “establishments which sell beverages in glass or metal containers in the city” cannot “knowingly allow any person to leave the premises of such establishment carrying an opened glass or opened metal container.”
But as long as there are plastic containers and alcohol, the go-cup seems unlikely to disappear.