Weekend ‘Safety Hour’ Lets Bars Stay Open Until 4 a.m.
Taps turn off at 3 a.m., but voluntary program gives an extra hour to find a ride home
ANCHORAGE - Bar owners and the members of the Anchorage Assembly agree on one thing: Releasing hundreds of people onto city streets at the same time is a bad idea. And on Tuesday night, the assembly passed an ordinance that they think offers a solution.
“We've heard from a lot of the bars over the years [that] they want to have a safety hour, a chance to get the patrons out of the bars and home safely,” Assemblyman Dick Traini said Wednesday. It was his ordinance—following up on and modifying a similar proposal by Assemblyman Patrick Flynn—that passed last night. “This gives them that opportunity, if the bar decides to use this program.”
That program—referred to as simply the “safety hour” by many—allows bars to keep their doors open until 4 a.m. on weekends if they pay a one-time $100 fee. Like all bars in Anchorage, alcohol sales after 3 a.m. remain prohibited, and the ordinance states that drinks will have to be collected at 3 a.m. to avoid abuse. Participating bars will also have to turn up their lights and stop playing music during the safety hour.
“We just need an hour to get people home safely,” Doran Powell said. As the general manager of Midtown bar Chilkoot Charlie’s, it’s a program that he’s been pushing for for years.
“We want to have a slower, more organized close,” he said Wednesday. “It's just a matter of making sure everybody has a drink out of their hands, so everybody can wait for a cab in a safe warm place, as opposed to standing outside on a street corner at three o’clock in the morning, hitching a ride.”
But managers at other bars said the program isn’t for them.
“The summer is the only time we have people in here past 2:30 a.m.,” Pete Burns said. He’s the manager at Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse downtown, and said his restaurant has no trouble with customers getting home safely before 3 a.m. “I just don't see the demand for it here.”
But the ordinance has at least one other big supporter: police.
Deputy Chief Steve Smith with the Anchorage Police Department said that what he likes about the safety hour is that “the new rules aren't radically different.”
Smith said APD is hopeful that the extra time will help reduce the amount of drunken driving, but he said they’re also hoping that it will help reduce sexual assaults.
With the safety hour, Smith said “you don't have a vulnerable individual, especially female, [leaving] the bar, so now they're outside on the sidewalk, vulnerable to predators.” He said an extra hour would give them “a warmer safer place to be for an hour as they wait for a ride home or things of that nature.”
Bars can sign up for the program immediately, and bar owners and police will be watching to see if the safety hour experiment is a success.