Albany City Commission sets earlier closing time for bars

Abany Mayor Bo Dorough, pictured, and City Commission members B.J. Fletcher, Jon Howard, Bob Langstaff and Chad Warbington voted on Tuesday in favor of new hours of operation for establishments that sell alcoholic drinks.

ALBANY — After hearing from bar and restaurant owners last week, the Albany City Commission retained a 2:55 a.m. last call for bars and restaurants that sell alcohol, but moved closing time up by 30 minutes.

Under the new ordinance approved by a 5-2 vote on Tuesday, commissioners set 3:30 a.m. as the time that tables must be cleared of alcoholic beverages.

For bars and lounges, buildings must be cleared of employees by 4 a.m.

Previously, customers could remain inside until 4 a.m. and employees were required to be out by 5 a.m.

In an earlier draft proposal, last call — or the time that sales of alcoholic beverages would end — was set at 2:45 a.m., with all customers and employees to be out by 3:30 a.m.

At an earlier work session restaurant owners had requested more time to clean up and complete bookkeeping matters than that allowed under the initial proposal.

“The changes were in response to those comments,” City Attorney Nathan Davis said during a Wednesday telephone interview. “After hearing from them this was the final result.”

There was some confusion on Tuesday as commissioners asked questions about how the changes would affect restaurants.

Regulations for restaurants are spelled out in another code section that was not changed.

Businesses that derive at least 50 percent plus $1 in revenue from food or lodging receipts, for example, are allowed to open on Sundays and sell alcoholic beverages between the hours of 11 a.m. and midnight on that day.

Bars and nightclubs are not allowed to open on Sundays.

For restaurants that serve food into the early morning, the same requirements apply as those for bars on other nights of the week for last call and the clearing tables of alcoholic beverages. However, they are allowed to remain open and continue selling food beyond that time if owners choose to do so.

Commissioner B.J. Fletcher, who voted to approve the changes, said her concern was that restaurant employees have sufficient time after customers leave to properly clean up before leaving for the night.

“My whole concern is the health department has very tight guidelines for restaurants and bars,” Fletcher, herself a restaurant owner, said during a Wednesday telephone interview. “You can’t rush through cleaning, especially in the time of COVID.”

Also voting to approve the changes were Commissioners Jon Howard, Bob Langstaff and Chad Warbington and Mayor Bo Dorough. Commissioners Matt Fuller and Demetrius Young voted against the measure.

In two separate votes related to sales of alcoholic beverages, commissioners approved new guidelines for an appeals process for license applicants who are denied a license in an initial hearing and new advertising requirements for applicants who apply for an alcohol license.

In the event commissioners deny a license request, the city attorney’s office is required to provide within five days a statement giving the reason or reasons for the denial. The applicant will be given 10 days to appeal and commissioners are required to set a hearing for hearing the appeal within 30 days.

In the third measure, applicants for alcohol licenses, either for package sales or on-site consumption, will be required to place newspaper advertisements of at least six column inches in size at least 10 days prior to the date commissioners take the request under consideration.

In addition, applicants will be required to place a sign in a prominent location at the proposed site.

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