BERLIN — A packed house of supporters last night at Town Hall wasn’t enough to swing a divided Berlin Council in favor of an application by The Globe to operate an outside bar during New Year’s Eve.
While Mayor Gee Williams chided opponents of the application on the council for allowing personal feelings to dictate policy, those same opponents reminded the room that the issue has come up twice in the last month and that it is time for the town to move on.
The Globe owner Jennifer Dawicki first approached the council last month with her request to have permission to run a street-side service counter that would include alcohol sales at the 2013 New Year’s Eve ball drop. A similar bar was operated by The Globe at last year’s event, as well as other special events in town throughout the year, with no problems or disturbances noted. But when Dawicki repeated the application this year she was turned down by a 3-2 vote.
On Monday evening, Dawicki returned to the council with approximately 50 supporters in tow and a petition with 98 signatures. She outlined her original case in more detail and also asked Council members Dean Burrell, Elroy Brittingham and Lisa Hall why they had voted not to allow The Globe an outside bar on the street. Last year, the vote was 3-2 in favor of allowing the request with Burrell and Paula Lynch opposed.
“Because I feel that it is inappropriate, it is inappropriate to designate a public way,” answered Burrell, “which is going to enhance your building, enhance your business; you’re using a public way for your individual profit and I think that’s not right.”
While The Globe would operate the outside bar in the hopes of increasing profits, Dawicki argued that her application was looking out for not only her best interests but those of the town.
“We feel if guests are waiting in long lines for service it is safe to say they might leave the event, not attend the event in the future, or even worse, not frequent Berlin as often because of the bad experience,” she said.
Dawicki added that brutal lines and lengthy waits would also encourage guests at the ball drop to smuggle in their own alcohol, which would present a big risk to responsible drinking, in her opinion.
Forcing all guests who want a drink to enter The Globe’s main building, continued Dawicki, would also be disruptive to people who were in there grabbing food or non-alcoholic drinks.
“We already have 100-plus reservations on our books for that particular evening,” she told the council.
The inclusion of more of the town in the event this year, including new bars at Si’culi and Tex Mex and Beyond, should alleviate some of the crowd, admitted Dawicki. However, she still felt that the thousands of visitors that Berlin receives for the ball drop every year could easily prove overwhelming.
When Dawicki asked Brittingham his reasons for voting against her application last month, he didn’t go into details but did say that he received numerous calls from the community after the meeting affirming his decision. Dawicki pressed, asking if any of the callers had told Brittingham why, exactly, they opposed The Globe operating an outside bar during New Year’s Eve when an identical operation last year was so successful.
“I didn’t ask for reasons,” admitted Brittingham.
He told Dawicki that he “knew it within myself that I made the right decision” and that all of the calls he received had simply reinforced that belief, even if specifics were not delved into.
Dawicki made it clear that she felt she was facing phantoms since the residents that Brittingham claimed opposed her application never explained why. Those same residents remained silent and out of sight during both of the meetings when The Globe’s request has been discussed as well, since all of the public comments heard at either meeting were in support of the application.
“I don’t really know what to say other than I haven’t gained any knowledge on how I can better conduct myself and my business,” said Dawicki.
Brittingham assured her that she was “doing all that you can do” but that the problem lay with his comfort level in approving a bar to be operated on a public street. Burrell concurred and likened the request to someone wanting to sell alcohol at one of the town’s parks.
“I asked myself, would I approve someone selling liquor at Stephen Decatur Park or Henry Park?” he said. “And I said, ‘no.’ So I have been fundamentally opposed to this concept almost from the beginning.”
If Dawicki truly feels that an outside bar is necessary to allow her to compete with other town establishments like the Atlantic Hotel, Burrell advised her to alter her property enough to allow a new alcohol license that permits serving to an outside area.
“If you want to sell liquor outside, improve your property, get a different license,” Burrell said.
It is fair to note that the Atlantic Hotel is relatively unique in its license and ability to serve alcohol to patrons outside the establishment due to the size of its grounds.
For her part, the day after the meeting, Hall did list some specific concerns that she said she has heard from the community.
“They were concerned about the wellbeing of their children,” she said in regards to the calls she has received.
While Hall admitted that the ball drop isn’t the most kid-friendly event, taking place at midnight, she argued that entire families do attend and some residents have told her they have growing worries over language or the possibility of fighting taking place. Even if the events have avoided any incidents so far, Hall pointed out that it only takes one spark to light a fire.
“You can’t project that stuff,” she said.
While Hall did vote in favor of loosening open container rules in Berlin during celebrations like New Year’s Eve, she felt that going a step further and allowing street-side bars would be too much. If it was only for The Globe, it might be different, she continued, but in the pursuit of fairness, all bars should be allowed the same privileges. Thus, if the council approved Dawicki’s application, Hall said that establishments like Si’culi and Tex Mex should receive the same treatment if they requested it, which would mean several outdoor bars on public streets, a scenario she was uncomfortable with.
The mayor agreed that having the town streets filled with bars was not a good direction to go, but asserted that The Globe’s request was unique due to its extreme proximity to the ball drop. If other bars came forward with similar requests for New Year’s Eve, Williams told the council that he would not support those applications.
While he maintained that he respects every council member’s right to their opinion, Williams criticized the stance taken by Burrell, Hall and Brittingham, asserting that they’re allowing their own bias over having alcohol at town events to color their votes.
“What you may consider proper is each individual’s decision but this is a legal body, this is not a congregation, and we cannot enforce our personal beliefs on the entire town, even if we find it personally not acceptable,” he said.
This isn’t 1950, concluded Williams, and holding onto antiquated opinions on the evils of drinking are doing a disservice to a modern Berlin, which is what he felt the majority of the council did Monday night.
In response, Hall said she is “reflecting the will of my constituents,” not just her personal feelings. She added that, in her opinion, the council is still and always has supported town events.
Brad Gillis, the only resident to speak about the vote during public comments, agreed with Williams that the council’s decision is pulling the town backwards.
“We’ve got to learn from this,” said Gillis. “It’s a step in the wrong direction.”
While a large number of town residents left the meeting disappointed by the 3-2 vote, which was identical to last month’s, Burrell asked that the issue not be broached a third time before New Year’s.
“We have had this vote twice and it has remained the same,” he said. “I really hope, going forward, that when there is a vote cast we respect that vote and move on.”
After the meeting, Dawicki said she remains not just disappointed by the decision but also confused.
“I am baffled by the lack of reasoning and explanation for the denial of this request,” she said.