Brookhaven bars may be required to have earlier closing times — or pay a higher fee to stay open later — under a proposal that police officials believe will reduce crime along Buford Highway.
But after listening to a lengthy discussion by council members at a July 25 work session, one Buford Highway club owner said he didn’t know if the council was aware of what it was doing.
“They are trying to push and shorten hours. But they are not sure what they need,” said Grman Berreta, owner of El Ocho Billiards. “At some point, it looks like they are just playing with hours.”
Currently, “last call” for late-night venues is 2:55 a.m., with closing at 3:30 a.m. Restaurants may also stay open until 3:30 a.m., but are supposed to stop serving alcohol at 12:30 a.m.
Brookhaven’s proposed ordinance rewrite would set the city’s last call for all venues serving booze at 2 a.m., with a closing time of 3 a.m., to be in line with surrounding cities. Police officials say earlier “last calls” could also help curtail violence and DUIs, especially on Buford Highway.
But Berretta said the city already tried cutting back hours in 2014 to try to address the very same things.
“Back in 2014, the ordinance was amended … and they shortened hours. Now we still have the same safety problems,” he said. He also said his club, which he’s owned for 16 years, primarily serves those who work in the restaurant and cleaning industries and who work most nights until midnight or later and want to get a cocktail or food after they get off work.
“What this [shortening hours] is going to do to businesses is just bring them down,” he said.
“We depend on the late hours,” he added. “Our clientele comes in between 12 a.m. and 3 a.m., after they just got off work.”
Mayor John Ernst and the council asked staff to determine how much it costs to patrol Buford Highway from midnight to 3 a.m., when police say they are especially busy with incidents at late-night venues and are arresting people for DUIs. Most people arrested for DUI live outside the city limits, according to police.
After those costs are determined, Ernst suggested, the city could offer late-night venues the opportunity to pay an additional fee, or an “enhanced permit” to stay open later.
Assistant City Manager Steve Chapman explained how the additional license work: if the city were to amend the ordinance to have last call at 1 a.m. and closing at 1:30 a.m., late-night venue owners who want to continue serving until 2:55 a.m. and close at 3:30 a.m. would pay more to be able to do so.
“That would help us identify the organizations and the resources we need because we would know who is open those hours,” he said.
It currently costs a business $100 in administrative fees to file for an alcohol application to sell beer or wine and $200 to sell liquor. Other costs to have alcohol licenses include monthly charges such as: $70 a month to sell beer or wine; $333 a month for liquor stores; $91.66 a month for Sunday sales; and $50 a month for a patio permit.
The city currently takes in approximately $900,000 a year from venues serving alcohol through license fees and excise taxes, according to Chapman.
The council is set to discuss the alcohol ordinance at a future work session. No date to approve the rewrite has been set. Staff is recommending it be done by Jan. 1, 2018, when businesses must renew their alcohol licenses with the city.