A few weeks ago I wrote an opinion piece in the Buffalo News about the benefits of changing the closing time for bars in Erie County from 4AM to 2AM. Since then many people have voiced their opinions on the subject, usually very strongly, either in favor or against. Now, after a few weeks thinking about it, I have to admit that the problem, and solution, may not be so black and white.
First… a quick backstory. I’m 42 years old, married, with a six-year-old daughter. People over 30 see me as a stable homeowner of 15+ years who’s invested a significant amount of money in his home. People under 30 see me as a crotchety old guy who expects everyone within a five-mile radius to be asleep by 10PM. Both groups are right.
So, closing bars at 2AM instead of 4AM. Good idea? Bad idea? Will it reduce drinking problems and improve the quality of life for residents? Will it simply shift those problems earlier in the evening? Will it encourage more economic development and home ownership? Will it discourage younger people from living in the city? Or will it not really do anything? Let’s break things down.
The number of people that would be affected (both positively and negatively) is pretty small. Most people don’t live next to a bar, across the street from a bar, or in a neighborhood with lots of bars close by. Most people aren’t regularly woken up at 4AM by deep intellectual conversations.
“HEY! JOHN! YOU’RE @$#%ING AWESOME, MAN! NO, YOU ARE! NO, YOU ARE!!! YOU’RE AWESOME!!! YOU’RE NOT LISTENING, JOHN, I SAID YOU’RE AWESOME!!!!
Also, if you consider the entire population, the majority doesn’t go out past midnight, let alone 2AM. You’re not going to bars if you’re under 18. If you’re 30 or older you’re most likely calling it a night no later than 2AM. Over 40 and your standards for a crazy night are a little…um…lower.
Hey honey, it’s Friday night, and I don’t know if it’s me or the Chenin Blanc talking, but…would you be up for a SECOND episode of The Good Wife? Oh my, we’re really doing this, aren’t we?
So it’s mostly the people in that 18-30 range who might stay out until four, and I’ll bet most of them are home by two. But maybe there’s a poll somebody could do…hey, prove me wrong.
In any event, the percentage of people who have to deal with drunks outside their home at 4AM, plus the percentage of people who ARE drunk outside those homes at 4AM, is a pretty low percentage. So if this measure passes, most of us will forget about it in six months.
For the majority of people going out, closing bars at 2AM will not cut down on the amount of available nightlife time. There’s a whole dead zone for many bars between 9 and 11PM. People go out later because that’s just what’s evolved over the years. If bars close earlier, people’s habits will change.
JILL – I still don’t understand. The bar closes at 2AM, but we don’t get there until 11PM. Couldn’t we go earlier?
SUSAN – Earlier? What, are you crazy? It’s only 9:00; what would we do there for the next two hours…drink? Plus, we’ve got three episodes of The Good Wife to binge watch.
JILL – Couldn’t we watch them when we get home?
SUSAN – Now you’re just being ridiculous.
Since man discovered alcohol, no one has found a way to stop people from drinking (not counting the short-lived success of Prohibition). So to the bar owners…fear not. Your customers will just show up earlier. And to all you fun-lovin’ twenty-somethings out there…relax. You’ll have the same amount of time to get your drink on.
And of course, at 2AM, all of these fun-lovin’ folks will silently make their way home, ever conscious of their sleeping neighbors.
FRANK – Bob, keep your voice down. We’re in a neighborhood, and it’s 2 in the morning.
BOB – Sorry about that, I thought it was later. Man, I miss the days when we could yell stuff about hot chicks at 4 in the morning, but that would be inappropriate at 2AM.
FRANK – You said it. Now let’s silently make our way home.
BOB – If we’re quiet enough, maybe we’ll happen upon some wildlife. Perhaps a red-tailed hawk.
FRANK – Indeed.
Let’s not delude ourselves. You’ll still have to clean the puke off your driveway whether it got there at 2AM or 4AM.
Personally, based on past experience, I’d choose loud drunks at 2AM. Being woken up at 2AM means I grumble and go back to sleep. Being woken up at 4AM means I spend the next two hours lying awake thinking maybe we should move to the burbs. And then I get out of bed and have a really great day. (Seriously, is there a sarcasm emoticon anyone could share?)
However, I’d REALLY hate being kept awake by an all-night house party that happens every Friday ever since they rolled the bar closing time back to 2AM. Which might not actually happen. But it might. It’s what I might’ve done when I was young, which was like a million, billion years ago.
See, none of this is black and white.
People don’t like being told what to do. People who like to go out late at night don’t want to be told they can’t go out late at night. Maybe they’re a waiter or a theatre actor and just want some downtime before going to bed. Maybe they work a second shift and want a few hours to hang with the crew over a few beers. Maybe they’re vampires and the summers in Buffalo are completely messing with their game. They go out, have a few drinks, then go home without a peep. Sounds reasonable to me.
But you know who drives me absolutely nuts? (CAUTION…SARCASM AHEAD) Long-time homeowners stupid enough to live in an area with lots of nightlife. “If you don’t like the noise, don’t live there!”, that’s what I say. How dare they complain about disrespectful people using their porch as a bathroom and teaching their kids at 3AM how to use the F-word as a noun, adverb, adjective and preposition…IN THE SAME SENTENCE. Who cares if the late night scene has gotten louder and rowdier since they first bought their home a decade or two ago and spent tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars on a mortgage, renovations and taxes? “What’s the big deal…it’s just the place where you raised your kids and made lifelong friends with great neighbors. You’re like what…in your fifties? Maybe it’s time to downsize…have you thought about assisted living?”
People don’t want to be told they can’t enjoy a late night out, and people don’t want to be told they should move because their neighborhood has gotten rowdier over the years. This is our city; it should be a great place to live, work and play…for everyone.
Finally, most people are pretty nice. Most bar and restaurant owners operating in residential neighborhoods work really hard to be good neighbors. Most people leaving bars at 4AM, or 2AM, or 11PM or whenever, are quiet and considerate when they’re in a neighborhood. And most people, even at the end of a raucous night, don’t feel the need to scream their brains out in front of my bedroom window.
“What the $%&@ is this ticket for? Blocking a driveway? THAT’S a driveway??? $#%& that, I couldn’t fit a bicycle down there! Hey, is that a garage back there?
The problem is, most people aren’t the problem. It only takes a few inconsiderate folks to ruin it for everybody. But is changing the closing time to 2AM the best way to deal with them? Seriously, I’m asking…is it? Because I don’t think anybody really knows for sure.
When the issue of an earlier closing time came up, my concern was not the drinking…it was the quality of life in the city. If a 2AM closing time means I can get a better night’s sleep on the weekend, I’m all for it. But maybe the noise simply moves to a house party or outside Jim’s Steakout. And as for drinking, people will still drink, people will still drink too much, people will still drink and drive. Will people drink and drive less? I have no idea…I’ll defer to whatever data people have gathered on that.
No matter what happens, we should continue to find ways to improve the quality of life in our city. How can we encourage people to become homeowners in our city, while also offering a vibrant nightlife that draws visitors (and their dollars) to the area? How can bars and restaurants play a role encouraging their patrons to respect their neighbors, without adding more layers of bureaucratic hassles and red tape that plague businesses in our state? Is there a better way for residents to report issues with loud bars and obnoxious patrons other than constantly calling the non-emergency police number. Because the police LOVE dealing with drunks late at night…it’s not like they’ve got anything better to do. ^o) (I found that emoticon online…supposedly it’s a face with a raised eyebrow, suggesting sarcasm. Sorry…best I could do.)
Whatever happens on this issue, let’s at least agree on a few things.
- Nobody wants young people to leave Buffalo for other cities because of the nightlife…geez, they just starting coming back.
- Nobody should be forced to move from their home because people are being loud and obnoxious outside.
- Most people leaving bars early in the morning are not loud and obnoxious. We just need a plan to deal with the few people causing the problems.
- Speaking of problems, other cities have way bigger ones to deal with (Flint, anyone?) Take a breath… this isn’t life or death.
So let’s figure out how to improve our city for everybody. And if you have a better sarcasm emoticon, let me know (that raised eyebrow thing is just stupid).
-Jerry MacKay, Buffalo, NY
P.S. Do people even use emoticons anymore? I wouldn’t know…I’m old.