Alcohol License Review Committee chair Ald. Tim Bruer is asking downtown taverns to drop their drink specials as one way to combat binge-drinking in Madison.
At UW-Madison, city and UW officials blame drink specials for much of UW students’ drunkenness and physical injuries. Drink specials crowd the bars, which creates problems at bartime.
Bruer wants to give the downtown area an “entertainment district status,” which would require downtown bars to end their long-standing drink specials.
Classification as an entertainment district requires the creation of a uniform set of rules for a given geographic region.
However, Bruer’s colleagues are skeptical of his proposal.
Ald. Kent Palmer, Dist. 15, chairs the ALRC’s subcommittee on downtown alcohol issues and policy; the committee is wary of accepting of Bruer’s idea to curtail binge-drinking.
The subcommittee suggested that the most effective way to combat binge-drinking and alcohol-related crime is self-regulation by bar owners.
LaMarr Billups, assistant to UW Chancellor John Wiley, said the entertainment district idea is in sync with the university’s crackdown on binge-drinking.
“We’ve asked establishments to adopt voluntary license restrictions or conditions, among them that no drink specials will be offered,” Billups said. “Many of the bars don’t want to do it unless other bars refrain from doing it.”
Bruer said if most tavern owners agree to drop their specials, which are used for inter-bar competition, all owners will feel more comfortable with the proposal.
An entertainment district would also create greater capacity incentives for bars’ alcohol-free entertainment venues.
Bruer said that he believes an entertainment district would combat many of the alcohol-related crimes and problems downtown.
According to Bruer, his proposal would create “a safer, more responsible environment in those areas that are currently making large volumes of police calls.”
Mayor Sue Bauman said that she needs more information on the logistics of an “entertainment district” before she can decide whether Bruer’s proposal will prove effective or worthwhile.
“While the proposal contains many appealing aspects and sounds intriguing, I don’t know if this will have an impact on binge-drinking,” Bauman said. “I need more information.”
Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, completely rejects Bruer’s idea.
“This proposal is totally outrageous,” Verveer said. “I find it hard to believe that the city has the power to regulate prices or distribution of products.”
Verveer said he feels there are many other ways to prevent binge-drinking.
“Even if the city did have the power to regulate drink specials, it would be a wrong-headed approach to the drinking issues that exist downtown,” Verveer said.
He said offering students more alternatives to bars and parties is a better step towards preventing binge-drinking.
Verveer also said if a group of bar owners on the same block or street agrees to pull their ads in local papers and end their drink specials, he would have no problem with that.
“But for the city to set prices and ban specials and happy hours is ridiculous,” he said.
Verveer said that students and other bar patrons should not worry that this proposal will become law in the near future because of its controversial nature.
“People should not fear that this prohibition will be in effect anytime soon,” he said.
Richard Lyshek, owner of Bullfeathers Pub and Eatery, 303 N. Henry St., also opposes Bruer’s proposal.
“I shudder at the thought of the City Council having power to dictate the pricing structure of businesses engaged in commerce,” Lyshek said.
He said he does not feel that drink specials are the source of UW’s binge-drinking problem.
“Drink specials are not a call to students to come and binge-drink,” he said. “They are an effort to make it affordable for students to relax in a bar after a day of work or school instead of at home.”
Barb Mercer, president of the Tavern League in Madison, is also skeptical of the proposal.
“I have no problem with it as long as it remains voluntary,” Mercer said. “Once regulations take place I will have a problem with the city over-regulating.”
Bruer will introduce the proposed legislation when the city attorney’s office drafts it. However, questions still remain on the legality of the proposal.
Meanwhile, a new panel is being created to discuss alcohol issues on campus.