Although the measure, which stipulates a 2:30 a.m. last call and 3 a.m. closing, is set to go into effect Jan. 1, bar owners don't plan to fight City Hall. At least, not as a group.
"We feel like we've made such as effort to work with the city on this, we aren't interested in creating an adversarial relationship," explains Michael Krohngold, owner of Tongue & Groove in Buckhead and one of the founders of the Atlanta Licensed Beverage Association.
The association, which boasts a membership of about 80 restaurants, bars and nightclubs, was formed this fall to lobby the City Council against the proposed rollback of pouring hours. But as with any industry group, the association is obliged to work within the system. So, even before the council voted to do away with the traditional 4 a.m. closing time, bar owners agreed that the association would play the hand it was dealt by the city.
That's not to say that individual club owners might not decide to sue the city or seek a temporary restraining order, says Krohngold, who adds that he isn't aware of any such plans. However, it's likely that any such suit would face an uphill battle -- especially after the bar community's setback in October, when the Georgia Supreme Court ruled in favor of restoring the state's blue laws. Bars that celebrated a decision earlier this year by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Marvin Arrington that allowed them to serve on the Sabbath, had to return to dry Sundays when he was overturned.
Shorter hours aren't the only challenge for Atlanta's bar owners to come out of the recent council action, however. Members of the council's Public Safety Committee were outraged when Acting Fire Chief Ken Allen casually informed them that city fire marshals commonly let bars off with a friendly warning when it comes to such minor violations as room capacity and posting of exits. As a result, the city has jumped on the bar community with both feet, says Warren Bruno, owner of Atkins Park in Virginia-Highland and president of the new bar association.
The police department license and permits division, which before had no evening inspectors, has suddenly descended upon Buckhead Village in force, he says, handing out citations as if they were rave flyers.
Clubs have been busted for such dubious offenses as offering nightly beer specials -- supposedly against the state's anti-happy-hour law -- and the universal nightclub practice of letting women in for free, which has been termed "discrimination."
"It's gone from zero enforcement to zero tolerance," Bruno says.
Krohngold says his club recently was cited for having too many people on his dancefloor -- even though the entire building was not over capacity. "People come out looking for a crowded, hot, sweaty dance floor," he says. "How can I tell people they can't go in the next room because it's full?"
Fire inspectors even told him to do away with his primary crowd-control device: the velvet rope out front. Apparently, the new conventional wisdom is that it blocks the exit for people who might be leaving.
After his bar had seven visits from fire marshals during the first weekend of heightened enforcement, Krohngold says his general manager gave notice.
"All I'm hoping is that we can weather the storm," he says.
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