OCEAN CITY — After gaining assurances from the promoter on certain controls, a divided City Council this week reversed a denial of liquor sales at OC BikeFest and will now allow mixed drinks to be served at the event.
Last week, OC BikeFest officials appeared before the Mayor and Council with a handful of requests related to a renewed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the town for the annual event in September including a desire to add liquor in addition to beer and wine at the weekend-long events at the Inlet. The request was denied last week after a contentious debate involving the virtues or evils of alcohol in general in the perceived family-friendly resort.
In the week since, the city received an email from event promoter Kathy Michael renewing the request with a handful of controls in place. For example, OC BikeFest would only serve limited types of liquor in carefully measured amounts of one-and-a-half ounces with an appropriate mixer. The drinks would be poured by certified bartenders with strict identification checks and no shots would be allowed.
At the close of Tuesday’s meeting, Councilman John Gehrig, who was a strong supporter of the request during a failed attempt last week broached the subject again, pointing out the controls promised by the promoter. Gehrig reiterated the apparent hypocrisy of allowing wine and craft beers with higher alcohol contents and denying a mixed drink with a measured shot in an eight- to 10-ounce glass packed with ice and a mixer.
“I was in support of the liquor permit because I think we need to be consistent in our approach,” he said. “If we want to talk about having too much alcohol in town, we can have that discussion. This is all about alcohol content.”
Gehrig pointed out most wines have an alcohol content of 12 percent, while some craft beers have an alcohol content as high as eight percent and certain malt beverages available have five percent. He said a mixed drink poured correctly under the guidelines offered by the promoter would have an alcohol content of 5-7 percent.
“We can have our own opinions on liquor and I’m not going to debate that or promote any kind of liquor, but we’re talking about alcohol content,” he said. “I think everyone deserves our consistent judgment. It’s not our place to judge who drinks what, but if we’re supporting alcohol then I think a mixed drink is appropriate. If we don’t think that, we need to set a consistent policy on the maximum alcohol content at all of our events. We can’t be arbitrary and inconsistent.”
Council President Lloyd Martin said he had reconsidered his no vote after realizing the same OC BikeFest event had offered mixed drinks at its associated events at the convention center.
“The more I thought about it, we allowed liquor at the OC BikeFest events at the Convention Center and we haven’t had any problems,” he said. “If they’re pouring at the right level with responsible bartenders and it’s done properly, I can support that.”
Council Secretary Mary Knight said she continued to oppose the sale of alcohol other than beer and wine at the OC BikeFest’s Inlet event because of the potential impact on nearby businesses.
“My objection was not how much alcohol anybody drinks,” she said. “My objection was for the businesses. When I look at BikeFest, I could walk 300 yards into a bar and get a mixed drink from that establishment. I could walk to several other locations and get a drink. I was trying to look out for the businesses in the area. I would never judge how much somebody drinks or even if they should drink.”
Councilman Wayne Hartman was a strong opponent of allowing liquor at the OC BikeFest events at the Inlet last week and has not changed his opinion despite the concessions offered by the promoter.
“My comments and opinions haven’t changed,” he said. “What is the benefit to the town? Hopefully somebody can answer that because last time we didn’t get that answer. This has nothing to do with the percentage of alcohol. To me, it’s all about perception. We’re a family town and this is a line in the sand we’re going to cross and open the gate for other events.”
Hartman agreed with Knight on the potential impact on area businesses.
“These special events are for the benefit of all of the businesses here,” he said. “If it is all self-contained and nobody has to leave that environment, what’s in it for the businesses? If somebody wants a mixed drink, they can go into one of our establishments that pay real estate taxes and all of the other things that go into having a licensed business.”
Hartman also pointed out potential problems that could arise from liquor sales.
“I think we could have issues,” he said. “Most of these people are on two-wheel vehicles. To add additional opportunities for impairment, I don’t think we need to subject the residents and visitors of Ocean City to any more risks. It’s government property. It’s not your house or my house. We’re talking about city property.”
Gehrig, however, continued to assert it was disingenuous to couch any opposition to liquor sales at BikeFest over concerns about impacts on private businesses.
“In terms of businesses, we just got done with an event that has beer and wine at Springfest that went until 10 p.m.,” he said. “A lot of businesses on the Boardwalk sell beer and wine. Why is liquor different than beer and wine as far as the impact on businesses? BikeFest closes the gate at 8 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. so attendees can go out and visit the businesses. I hear what you’re saying and I don’t disagree, but my point it simple. We need consistency.”
Gehrig also continued to hammer home the apparent hypocrisy in distinguishing between beer and wine and mixed drinks.
“I just don’t know what the difference is with liquor and beer and wine,” he said. “If somebody wants to get drunk, they’re going to get drunk. I don’t know why we’re the moral police when we allow beverages that have the same or higher alcohol content. Wine is basically double.”
Gehrig cited the specific example of a margarita to illustrate the perceived hypocrisy.
“Someone who drinks a margarita is no less a person than someone who drinks a glass of wine or a craft beer,” he said. “That’s the issue. If we want to talk about impacting the businesses, let’s get rid of booze at all of our events.”
Councilman Matt James said his opinion changed after gaining assurances from the promoter about certified bartenders pouring measured one-and-a-half ounce drinks in 8-10 ounce cups with ice and mixers.
“I was opposed to it last week at our meeting because I don’t think we want people taking shots in the Inlet parking lot,” he said. “I don’t think it’s the right atmosphere for that. I think this is a good compromise and I can support it now.”
The council voted 5-2 to allow the sale of mixed drinks at the OC BikeFest events at the Inlet in September with the stated controls in place with Knight and Hartman opposed. The vote reversed a decision last week to deny the request when only Gehrig and Dare were in favor.