Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A boozy slap on the wrist

Let me get this straight: The Alcohol License Review Committee (ALRC) and City Council have been making a lot of hay in past years over cracking down on over-consumption and rowdy bars. They even passed an Alcohol License Density Plan to limit the number of liquor licenses available for establishments in the downtown area--and recently proposed extending it to include a ban on the sale of individual bottles of beer and "fortified wine."

But enter the Kollege Klub, a bar with a years-long record of rowdiness and missteps:
A 13-page complaint filed in Dane County Circuit Court on May 6 lists multiple license violations from March 2008 through February for allowing underage people in the bar, selling liquor to intoxicated patrons, fights and other problems that make it a "disorderly house."

The incidents include what one Kollege Klub employee described as "the biggest fight he had ever seen" on Aug. 6, 2008, which was not reported to police, and a battery on the dance floor on Feb. 8, 2009, that was not reported to police and its video evidence recorded over.

...and the ALRC rolls right over for them.

Police had intended to hold a non-renewal hearing with the ALRC to bring evidence and see if it might be necessary to revoke the club's liquor license. This would have been the first such meeting in ALRC's history, something that came about as part of an effort to streamline and simplify the body's efforts at regulation and review.

Instead, Katherine Plominski (Madison's Alcohol Policy Coordinator, aka "bar czar") went ahead and cut a deal with the Kollege Klub wherein they accept "lesser sanctions" and go about their merry way, license intact. Those conditions "would require the bar to report all acts of violence to police within 48 hours and to maintain existing video cameras and save discs for 30 days." Which is good, but shouldn't they have been doing that all along? And shouldn't there be actual repurcussions for what, I suspect, is a violation of the law?

I can't help but think that, considering the bar's long history, something more than this slap on the wrist from Plominski is warranted. It also strikes me as a little bizarre that she essentially circumvented the intentions of the police, and the new type of separate nonrenewal hearing that had been set up to make the process more effective and efficient.

In general, I think the density plan was and is bogus. I don't think putting an arbitrary limit on the number of liquor licenses in a given area does much, if anything, to solve the underlying problems of binge and underage drinking or violence. If anything, it simply pushes the drinking culture into more dangerous and unregulated house party situations.

But I do believe something needs to be done about our over-drinking culture. It just seems to me that even those presumably well-meaning people in charge of policy are acting rashly and without much consideration for the complexities of the issue, as in this case.

Police have also asked that nonrenewal hearings be scheduled for three other downtown establishments: Johnny O’s Restaurant and Bar, Madison Avenue and Ram Head Rathskeller. Will Plominski or the ALRC in general cut deals with them before that can happen, though? I hope not, as it certainly seems to send the absolute wrong message to problem bars.

Here's an idea: Instead of limiting the overall number of liquor licenses, why not actually enforce existing statutes so that responsible businesses get to have their booze, and the troublemakers are actually held to account? It's hard to ask for new regulations before you actually attempt to use the ones you already have.

(photo by defekto on Flickr)


Joe said...

Amen! I think the density plan will result in a nearly constant number of riotous drunks being crammed into a smaller number of places. Brilliant.

Christian Schneider said...

I don't know why "battery on the dance floor" is such a compelling phrase, but it is. Everybody knows that any time, I step on the dance floor, it's dangerous - since my moves are lethal.

Anyway, the state law that governs how many bars a municipality is allowed to have always seemed heavy-handed to me. It's really a one-size-fits-all approach that imposes the same regulations on every municipality.

Anonymous said...

This article is as poorly written as the article in the state journal.

Emily said...


The Lost Albatross