Rumors have swirled for a while that downtown Fort Lauderdale's late night drinking spots were in danger.
Currently, section 5-29 of the city code of ordinances allows bars and restaurants to serve alcohol until midnight. If they have a special extended-hours permit, they can continue serving until 2 a.m. weekdays and 3 a.m. on Saturday and Sundays. Section 5-56 is an additional exemption for businesses considered "late-night licensed establishments" to serve alcohol until 4 a.m.
With the proliferation of nearby condos full of people trying to sleep as well other types of businesses that don't want the late-night crowds hanging around for one reason or another, there have been rumblings of a challenge to the city code for a while and recently that challenge seems to have come to life in the form of a letter dated September 23 from City Manager Lee Feldman that was sent to several area businesses that would be affected.
The letter explained that at the October 6 regularly scheduled commission meeting will consider amending current law regulating alcohol sales. Two amendments to current ordinances would effectively stop alcohol sales at 2 a.m. every night of the week — no exceptions.
Recently, local business owners John Todora (of Bull Market and Whiskey Tango) and Marc Falsetto (of JEY Hospitality, Rok Brgr, Himmarshee Public House, Tacocraft, and Pizzacraft), were asked about the possibility of a change to the ordinance.
The consensus seems to be that Beach Place is the source of the problems and that penalizing all of the local area businesses would be unfair.
After all, says Todora, it's not only families with young children that travel to Fort Lauderdale:
If that were to happen it would be a shame. I think people come to South Florida for vacation because it's completely different from where they live. The weather. The beaches. The vibe. The chance to stay up late and be out later than the average 1:30 a.m. last call you see in most of the states. Name another place in the country where you can have a day at the beach, go home and take a nap, go out to a bar or club until 4 a.m. and then, if you want, take a taxi to Scarlett's until 8 a.m. Tourists who have families are only one section of who comes to South Florida. We can't lose sight of the fact that this is a destination for adults who want to experience something different than their hum drum lives.
I'm not really a fan of government punishing the masses because they feel a small sector has done something wrong. It seems the city and Beach Place haven't seen eye to eye on how things should be run in that area. It would be a shame if other local businesses had to suffer because another can't get their act together.
As far as Himmarshee goes, I don't believe the city would change the hours in this area. It's a historical district, long known as a place you can get a drink and a bite to eat until late at night.
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Though many of the restaurants on Himmarshee transition into bars at night, with a few exceptions they still generally close at 2 a.m., so it would not immediately seem that a change to the ordinance would directly affect them.
Falsetto, however, worries that a lack of nearby late night options would drive the crowds away altogether. He also has some of his own ideas regarding who is causing trouble, and how to handle them:
"Himarrshee Village is unique and different from Beach Place. They're having a lot of crime, and [cutting back the hours] might be best for that area but when it comes to here it is what makes us unique and what helps us compete with Miami and Hard Rock. Losing the 4 a.m would be a big blow. Our places don't cater to that 4 a.m. crowd, but we enjoy being able to open to that time. There are other ways to control the crime; other ways to go about it other than chaining the entertainment like detail officers and dress codes that don't allow shorts t-shirts tank tops to eliminate all the problem crowds.
So far, the ordinances remain as they are. However, the proposed change will be discussed at the next City Commission meeting, Tuesday, October 6, at 6 p.m., at Fort Lauderdale City Hall, 100 N. Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Anyone wanting to speak at the meeting can sign in with a member of the city clerk's staff at the meeting. Items before the commission typically require two separate readings before becoming law.