Nearly a year after a spike in liquor-related problems in downtown St. Charles sparked a crackdown by police and talk of liquor code reform, there has been another surge in alcohol-fueled incidents downtown.
St. Charles police over the weekend saw a spike in the number of arrests connected directly with downtown taverns, from an aggravated assault, to a fight, to six citations for public drunkenness, to an open alcohol in public report that potentially could have one downtown establishment facing a complaint before the new St. Charles Liquor Control Commission.
One issue, while serious, appeared only peripherally related to the downtown bar scene — the aggravated assault incident occurred well after bar hours and involved a former patron reportedly threatening the bar manager who banned him from one establishment.
A year ago, then-Mayor Don DeWitte, the city’s liquor commissioner, led the charge before the St. Charles City Council to crack down on street brawls and public drunkenness after a spike in alcohol-related problems and other incidents associated with downtown taverns.
The ensuing crackdown sparked calls for liquor code reform — including the threat of changing the city’s 2 a.m. bar closing time to 1 a.m., which would reverse a concession made to bar owners in 2010, when the city instituted an alcoholic beverage tax.
Bar closing times became one issue in the spring 2013 municipal elections, with some candidates stating repeatedly, “Nothing good happens after midnight.”
The ensuing debate prompted talks among city officials and tavern owners, who formed the St. Charles Tavern Association in an effort to set standards for and to police themselves, as well as to act as a gateway for communication between the city and the downtown establishments. The association also instituted a “banned list,” to ensure that troublemakers eventually would be banned from all downtown taverns.
By and large, local police have considered the association’s efforts very positive, and the downtown bar scene generally was much quieter in the spring and summer months, although incidents of public drunkenness and public urination continued.
Still, the summer months have been largely quiet. Meantime, the City Council created the Liquor Control Commission, whose duties will include recommending penalties for taverns and restaurants prosecuted for liquor code violations.
Also on the commission’s agenda is to consider changes to the liquor code that would allow the city to treat the 2 a.m. closing time as a privilege that would have to be renewed from year to year, along with an establishment’s liquor license. Taverns that lose the 2 a.m. privilege would be forced to close earlier — perhaps as early as midnight — for the coming year.