State

Modesto bars ask for later cutoff on cocktails

In today's economy, businesses need every dollar — and every minute.

That's why some downtown Modesto club owners want permission to serve drinks until 1:45 a.m. instead of 1:30 a.m. Police don't like the idea.

Why all the fuss over 15 minutes? Club owners say the extra quarter- hour could mean the difference between breaking even and turning a profit.

"I don't know a club owner downtown that's not this close to going out of business. This is just another nail in the coffin," said Copper Rhino owner Les Knoll at Thursday's city Entertainment Commission meeting.

The 1:30 a.m. booze cutoff is a rule that some clubs — generally downtown establishments — must follow as a condition of their entertainment permit. For example, the permit for Azucar mojito bar on 10th Street says the bar must stop selling alcohol and admitting new customers at 1:30 a.m. Customers must stop drinking by 2 a.m. Dancing stops at 2:15 a.m. and the business must be cleared by 2:30 a.m.

State law says bars must stop serving drinks at 2 a.m. But the city's Entertainment Commission has the power to require a stricter curfew on some entertainment permits.

The commission, a citizen panel charged with regulating Modesto's music and club scene, started issuing entertainment permits six months ago. Before the city created the commission, the police had sole control over entertainment venues. Some thought that system was too rigid.

Now some club owners are calling the 1:30 a.m. drink deadline too strict. Entertainment Commissioner Chris Ricci, general manager of the Fat Cat club on 11th Street, said businesses are "furious" about it. "People are ready to form a lynch mob about this," Ricci said.

Under the old system, clubs were supposed to adhere to a 1:30 a.m. deadline for selling drinks, but the rule was rarely enforced, Knoll said. Most clubs stopped serving at 1:45 a.m., he said.

The lost 15 minutes has cost the Copper Rhino $3,000 to $4,000 a month, Knoll said.

"This is not an insignificant amount of money," Knoll said. "You're really talking about the difference between profiting and not profiting, and for some of these bars that aren't profiting, you're talking about the end of them."

Police say serving drinks for an extra 15 minutes isn't a good idea. "I just don't see how this enhances public safety," Lt. Andy Schlenker told the commission.

Police have a financial side to their argument, too. Keeping officers out later downtown could mean more overtime. That's a cost the city is struggling to keep in check as it faces an $8 million to $10 million shortfall in its general fund, which pays for police and fire services.

"Based on the finances of the city, I wouldn't want to do anything that's going to incur extra overtime," Schlenker said.

The commission will take up the question of whether to extend drink selling to 1:45 a.m. at its April 15 meeting at 4 p.m. in Room 2001, Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St., Modesto.

Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at lalbrecht@modbee.com or 578-2378. Follow her at http://twitter.com/BeeReporter.

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