4 a.m. Closing Time Won’t Make Us Chic

by | Oct 7, 2013 | Comment, Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

I work around drunk people. I always have. My earliest jobs were as a musician in nightclubs. I once played piano in a dive bar where I was told by the owner that if any customers wanted to sing, I had to play along with them, no matter how wasted they were. One guy kept boozily screaming at me to play “Melancholy Baby.” So I did. And just as he began to slur the words into the smelly microphone, he turned, woozy, and screamed, “That’s not merrrllncurly berby!”

And the owner got mad at me.

Later, as a sportswriter, I waded deeper into the booze pool. People drank in parking lots on my way in. People passed out in parking lots on my way home.

I wandered through Final Four postgame parties, Bourbon Street during Super Bowl week, Las Vegas during prizefights. I’ve seen a drunken barefoot woman step on broken glass and dunk her bleeding foot into a cup of beer. I’ve seen semi-naked fans howling as police carted them off. I found a drunken man sleeping inside my rental car.

I’ve covered countless stories of athletes, friends of athletes and victims of athletes killed by drunken driving, jailed for drunken diving or nailed for drunken stupidity – usually committed in the wee hours of the morning.

So when I read state legislators are considering a bill to keep our bars and restaurants open until 4 a.m. in certain central business districts, I don’t scream, point fingers or rail. I do what I always do.

I brace myself.

Another money grab

“We would be attracting more of the type of people who are going for the entertainment type of lifestyle,” Detroit bar and restaurant owner Nico Gatzaros told legislators considering this bill.

No, you wouldn’t. You would be attracting people who want to stay out later and drink longer. If that’s the “entertainment lifestyle,” then just say so. This is only – and ever only – about money, selling more alcohol, the biggest profit margin in the bar and restaurant business, and making more money for the government by charging a $10,000 licensing fee for any establishment that wants to increase its hours.

It is not, as supporters claim, about competing with New York and Chicago. Let’s be frank. People will choose Detroit over New York and Chicago when there is as much to do here as there is in New York and Chicago – not because you can guzzle booze two hours longer.

Now, unlike many, I don’t immediately assume a 4 a.m. closing time will increase arrests, violence or death rates. I look around the world where this is the norm and see conflicting studies. In England, where they relaxed the drinking laws eight years ago, they apparently have seen the same amount of violence, just shifted to later times. But they have experienced a sharp increase in people skipping work, calling in sick or coming in late.

That makes sense. You encourage late drinking, you encourage late arrivals. Do our cities really need to be less productive? Do we really need more alcohol consumed or more drunks on the roads later?

A deadline is a deadline

And that’s the thing. There is no great upside to this. People who say 4 a.m. closing times will decrease the number of people slamming drinks to beat a 2 a.m. deadline assume they won’t do the same two hours later. Unless they’re already sleeping on a bench in their own vomit.

Another scene I’ve witnessed many times.

Sure, individual Libertarians will yell, “It’s a free country, I can drink when I want.” Maybe that’s true. But let’s stop acting as if knocking back another vodka martini is somehow good for you. And doing what you want when it affects others is not the same as doing it at home. What about people coming into work between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m., of which there are many in our cities? What about our already taxed police forces? There is a reason this bill would allocate 85% of the license fees to local police departments.

As if money ever put an end to trouble.

Even with that, the bill is opposed by the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police. The chiefs see it for what it is.

Keeping bars open until 4 a.m. doesn’t make you Barcelona. It just makes you a place to get drunk later. This bill, in the end, is about how we want our cities to be perceived. Sadly, by the time you are dipping your bloody foot in a cup of beer, you’re not too worried about perception.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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