Berlin’s Alcohol Debate Grows To Parade Concerns

BERLIN — Recent controversy over an outdoor bar on a public road during Berlin’s New Year’s Eve ball drop as well as complaints of rowdiness during last week’s Christmas parade caused the Berlin Mayor and Council Monday to examine and discuss alcohol at future events.

Though current events aren’t expected to see major changes, the discussion made it clear that new events featuring alcohol will not likely to be added to the town’s roster anytime soon.

While a touchy subject year-round, the council’s decision to allow open-containers of alcohol at certain town events was thrust into the spotlight again over the last few weeks when The Globe’s application to set up an outside bar was rejected twice within the last month.

Compounding this was Councilwoman’s Lisa Hall’s worries over last week’s Berlin Christmas Parade, which she said had a few hiccups although she was happy with the event as a whole.

Hall’s fear is that town celebrations like the parade will become less family friendly if they start to be centered on alcohol sales. Though there haven’t been any reports of alcohol-related trouble at any events yet, Hall felt that it’s just a matter of time if the council isn’t careful.

“It just takes one person to do or say the wrong thing and a crowd will turn,” she said. “The [police] chief knows what I’m talking about. And I’m concerned about those small children and strollers sitting down in areas that are all of a sudden being crushed.”

Even with the town and businesses doing their best to monitor events, some of the celebrations can draw in over 1,000 visitors, and Hall pointed out that any guest, no matter how composed, can fall apart with enough alcohol.

“I’ve served the most elegant woman and watched them scoop her up off of the floor hours later,” she said. “There’s nothing classy about alcohol when you’re over-served.”

Using the Christmas parade as an example is flawed, according to Mayor Gee Williams, since the town never actually granted anyone permission to sell or drink alcohol outside.

“We didn’t give any approvals for the Berlin Christmas Parade for any special provisions for alcoholic beverages,” said the mayor.

All that happened at the parade, he reminded the audience, was the Atlantic Hotel exercising its right to sell and serve alcohol on its own property.

Williams also disagreed with Hall’s assessment of the parade, saying he didn’t receive any reports of trouble. Ernest Gerardi, owner of several downtown properties, felt the same.

“I never saw anything out of hand at the parade,” he told the council.

Nonetheless, Williams felt sufficient supervision and control would allow any celebration with alcohol to be handled intelligently. He admitted that not everyone would agree but pointed out there will always be pockets of dissent in any scenario.

“There are some people that cannot be pleased and they seek a perfection that doesn’t even exist,” said the mayor. “And I can’t worry about a handful of people when we’ve got thousands of people acting responsibly.”

As for Hall’s fears of people being over-served alcohol, Williams said people are not over-served in Berlin because the town doesn’t have a reputation for “cheap drinks” and instead tries to cater to a more exclusive, moderate crowd.

Hall clarified that she isn’t opposed to allowing the consumption of alcohol at events, but that moderation is important and the council needs to keep a tight hand on the reigns in regards to expanding alcohol at current events or adding new events that involve drinking.

“I just think that we need to look at our events … some of these events I’d like to see them more geared for families,” she said.

Though she voted in favor of The Globe’s application, Councilwoman Paula Lynch also said that she would hesitate to introduce more events where drinking is prevalent.

“I think the big consideration, in my mind, is the alcohol sales and how many we’re going to have. And you said that we’ll have more events next year; I hope we’re not talking more alcoholic events,” she said.

Economic and Community Director Michael Day assured Lynch that, while possible new events are in the pipeline, none of them are planned around alcohol.

“There are a couple art events the art community would like to have,” he said. “The antique community would like to have an antique show and sale. They’re not alcoholic events.”

The next town event to loosen open container rules in town and allow drinking on public streets will be the ball drop on Dec. 31. While Hall and Lynch both expressed hesitation over adding new events, both of them voted in favor of continuing the allowance of open-containers of alcohol in the streets at the already established New Year’s Eve celebration and allowing patrons of five town establishments the right to leave the premise with a drink.

That vote was nearly unanimous, with only Councilman Dean Burrell voting against relaxing the rules.