Proposal to let some Conn. bars stay open until 4 a.m. raises concerns
Connecticut always likes to compete against neighboring states for the best economic advantage, and officials closely monitor the taxes and policies just over the border.
But top officials are questioning a bill in the state legislature that calls for matching Massachusetts and New York by allowing some bars to remain open until 4 a.m.
The nearby MGM Springfield casino serves drinks on the gambling floor until 4 a.m., but Gov. Ned Lamont and House Speaker Matt Ritter of Hartford are not sold on the idea because too many accidents occur on the roads during the late hours.
The measure is being promoted by state Rep. Christopher Rosario, a Bridgeport Democrat who is pushing for a pilot program that would be limited to nine heavily populated communities that include his hometown, along with Hartford, New Haven, New London, Danbury, Stamford, Norwalk, Waterbury, West Hartford, and the tribal casinos.
Among the reasons for the proposal, Rosario says, is that bars and restaurants suffered a “detrimental and devastating impact’' from the long-running coronavirus pandemic, and many have been struggling to recover.
“If a local government, a local mayor, and city council decide they want to allow later closings in their jurisdiction, they should be able to,’' Rosario said. “Just like our tribal casinos, urban centers near hotels, convention centers, ballparks, and stadiums. Let’s create entertainment zones in Connecticut where the industry can thrive.’'
When Rosario introduced the idea in the past, the furthest that it got was being inserted into the budget “implementer’' with numerous other items that are approved in the final frenzied days of the legislative session. The item, though, was removed at the last minute and never went to a vote.
Rosario is not deterred by the argument that later hours could lead to more drinking and more accidents.
“That’s a risk no matter if the bars close at 1 a.m., 2 a.m., 3 a.m. or 4 a.m.,’' he said, adding that ride-share companies would be alerted if the bar hours change.
He stressed that the proposal is narrowly limited to nine communities and is completely on a voluntary basis.
“It’s not a mandate,’' Rosario said. “The premise isn’t to have every single bar in the state of Connecticut open until 4 a.m. There may be less than a handful of bars and restaurants that opt in to do so. I just wanted to give them the opportunity. This isn’t blanket legislation for everybody across the state.’'
As a resident of Fairfield County, Rosario says that late-night DJs often head over the border for gigs in Westchester County, N.Y.
“There are a lot of folks who go out and enjoy the night life, and then they drive to New York and come back,’' he said. “Why not keep those folks home and they can take an Uber home? ... South Norwalk has some of the best nightlife, probably in the Northeast. Stamford has great nightlife.’'
Cheshire Police Chief Neil Dryfe, a former Hartford assistant chief who now serves as president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, has concerns about the potential for increased drunken driving and accidents.
“Bars and entertainment areas tend to be hotspots for police departments‚’’ Dryfe said in an interview. “Union Place in Hartford — when I was working there — was always an area where we had a special detail that was assigned just to patrol the bar areas on the weekend nights. Any extension of the hours means police resources will have to be dedicated there for a longer period of time, and that’s in addition to concerns about DUIs increasing because people have an opportunity to stay out longer and later.’'
When the bars close at the same time, the crowds spill out onto the streets and create other issues, he said.
“In any of those areas where there’s a concentration of bars that all close at the same time — 2 o’clock — there is a lot of pedestrian traffic, a lot of people under the influence,’' Dryfe said. “They’ve spent three, four, five hours drinking, and all of a sudden the places where they are are closed all at the same hour. There were some fights. There was just a heavy concentration of people in one area, so we found that it was effective to assign officers specifically to that area so it did not tie up the whole patrol shift dealing with that area.’'
Lamont, 69, and Ritter, 40, say they are never out at that time of the night, which is known as a time for accidents on the highways.
“I don’t stay up past 11. Let me just start with that,’' Lamont said when asked by The Courant. “I’m not quite sure where that’s going. I don’t know what that’s about. I look at the driving accidents out there, and I’m not positive that’s going to help.’'
Lamont said the additional hours would lead to extra drinking and would not be “two hours more for lemonade.’'
In the same way, Ritter also did not offer any support for the idea.
“First of all, you’re asking a guy who goes to bed at about 9:30 p.m. on a late night,’' Ritter said when asked by The Courant. “I’m not really inclined at this point to continue until 4 a.m. I think people have enough time. I would worry about accidents and things like that. It’s not high on my priority list, no.’'
He added, “I think 2 a.m. gives people ample opportunity to enjoy their fun on a Saturday night.’'
While Rosario says he understands the hesitancy that Lamont and others have to the idea, he adds that attitudes often change over time at the legislature.
“Everybody, five years ago, was very cool to cannabis,’' Rosario said, noting that the legislature later legalized recreational marijuana that was signed into law by Lamont. “Whenever there’s something new, whenever there’s change, they’re cool to it. Right now, you can go and I can to a dispensary and get cannabis. Never say never.’'