Over the objection of the state’s Tavern League, Madison liquor regulators went ahead Thursday with the expansion of an initiative that prohibits people from entering certain Downtown taverns late on weekend nights.
Should the City Council concur, beginning July 1, no additional patrons will be allowed to enter at least 14 bars after 1:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, even if they were previously in them that night. The state-mandated bar closing time is 2:30 a.m. on weekends.
The restriction — first added last year to the liquor licenses of seven bars — is one of several strategies the city has implemented amid a rise in police calls to the Downtown in recent years. It has also added more surveillance cameras and police, upgraded lighting and taken other actions, according to Central District Police Capt. Jason Freedman.
Freedman has said that negative behaviors associated with college students and alcohol haven’t changed Downtown, but police have seen an uptick in the number of non-students coming to the area late on weekend nights, some of whom are gang-involved, armed or both.
“Reducing that density, all things being equal, reduces the number of predators and prey,” he told the Alcohol License Review Committee during its Thursday meeting. He pointed to a “substantial reduction” over the last year in the area in such crimes as battery, assault and robbery.
Bill Rudy, owner of The Double U and Chasers Bar and Grille, agreed that the no-new-entry rule has safety benefits.
The restriction was already in place at The Double U, and Rudy said he instituted it at Chasers.
“I don’t feel it’s hurt my business at all in terms of sales,” he said of The Double U.
Representatives from the other bars who have had the restriction in place for the last year also reported few problems with the restriction and did not object to it continuing.
Of the nine bars the city was hoping would accept the restriction, only the Kollege Klub, 529 N. Lake St., and Mondays, 523 State St., refused to do so.
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Kollege Klub owner Jordan Meier expressed opposition to having conditions placed on his bar’s liquor license, while Charles Giesen, the attorney for Mondays, said the no-new-entry restriction runs “contrary to state law” because the “condition is in effect a change in the closing hours.”
Tavern League of Wisconsin executive director Pete Madland expressed the same objection in an email to the ALRC and City Council and others last week, calling it a restriction on “access hours” to the bars.
“If a municipality were able to enact ‘access hours’ in this situation, nothing would prevent that municipality from going further to limit access to only a few hours a day, or no hours a day,” Madland said.
In an interview earlier Thursday, Madland said the Tavern League had not been aware until recently of the no-new-entry restrictions added to the seven Madison bars last year. He said he met last week with four or five owners of the bars newly targeted with the restriction and told them that if they voluntarily accept the restriction, it could lead to lawsuits against them by people who think the bars are colluding to keep them out.
“The potential is there,” he said. “And that’s what I wanted to make our members aware of.”
He pointed to expensive but ultimately unsuccessful litigation more than a decade ago that targeted Madison bars for voluntarily agreeing to ban weekend happy hours.
The ALRC’s independent counsel, Assistant City Attorney Roger Allen, though, noted that the bars won the happy hour case, and said the case is more likely evidence that the bars wouldn’t be subject to litigation over the no-new-entry provision.
“I just think you’re wrong on the law when you say that this would expose you to liability,” he said.
If the City Council approves their license renewals in June, bars subject to the no-late-entry policy would include: The Double U, 620 University Ave.; Wando’s, 602 University Ave.; Red Shed, 406 N. Francis St.; Blue Velvet Lounge, 430 W. Gilman St.; State Street Brats, 603 State St.; Church Key, 626 University Ave.; Liquid/Ruby, 624 University Ave.; Vintage Spirits and Grill, 529 University Ave.; City Bar, 636 State St.; Karaoke Kid, 614 University Ave.; Whiskey Jack’s Saloon, 552 State St.; Danny’s Pub, 328 W. Gorham St.; Chasers Bar and Grille, 319 W. Gorham St.; and Red Rock Saloon, 322 W. Johnson St.