A bill to close bars statewide by 2 a.m. is drawing mixed reviews from central Kenai Peninsula bar operators.
"I'd definitely be opposed to anything like that," said Bob Strauss, manager of Riverside House in Soldotna.
State law already requires bars to close from 5 a.m. until 8 a.m.
On weekends, Strauss said, the Riverside bar often stays open until the deadline, and closing early could be costly.
"Those are very busy nights," he said. "We'd definitely feel the bite."
But Rep. Scott Ogan, R-Palmer, said the 2 a.m. closure could save lives.
He introduced the bill Jan. 19, saying current state law is a "recipe for disaster" because bar patrons in one jurisdiction will drink until closing time, then drive to a neighboring town with later bar hours.
"All this does is put people on the road after several more hours of drinking," he said. "When the bars close at 5 a.m., they drive (back) to Anchorage and they're on the road with the first (morning) commuters."
Larry Gjovig, owner of the J-Bar-B Club on the Sterling Highway south of Soldotna, said Ogan's bill is just another example of some people trying to run other people's lives.
"Some people work days. Some people work nights. Why shouldn't (night workers) enjoy their time off like they want to enjoy their time off?" he said. "As far as I'm concerned, everybody ought to be responsible for themselves."
However, Gjovig said, the 2 a.m. closure would not hurt his business much.
"We seldom stay open beyond midnight except on Friday and Saturday nights," he said. "Sometimes we stay open until 3 or 4 a.m."
He also criticized a bill introduced by Rep. Joe Green, R-Anchorage, under which people convicted of driving while intoxicated would lose the privilege of buying alcohol for up to five years. Those who lose their alcohol privileges would receive new drivers' licenses of a different color. Bartenders and liquor store clerks would have to check every buyer's license. It would be illegal to furnish alcohol to anyone whose privilege to buy it was revoked.
"It shouldn't be up to the bartender," Gjovig said. "Once he has carded someone and made sure he's old enough, he shouldn't have to card him every time he walks in."
An Anchorage ordinance requires bars there to close by 2:30 a.m. weekdays and by 3 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Neither Kenai nor Soldotna requires bars to close before 5 a.m. However, neither Soldotna Police Chief Shirley Warner nor Kenai Police Lt. Jeff Kohler saw big problems with all-night bars. Warner said bars call Soldotna police when patrons get out of hand or pull out their keys when they should not be driving.
Kohler said it is illegal for a bar to serve alcohol to a blatantly intoxicated customer.
"Most of our (liquor) license owners are responsible -- not serving intoxicated people," he said. "That's the biggest issue. The license holders need to be vigilant. The bars are generally calling when they have someone they can't serve."
The Lighthouse Inn in Nikiski often stays open until 5 a.m. on weekends, said owner Lynn Ebarb.
"We have a band Saturday night, and that usually turns into an all-nighter," she said.
Even so, she said, she favored Ogan's bill.
"At 2, it's time to go home and quit drinking anyway," she said.
But she questioned whether closing at 2 a.m. would do much to solve anyone's drinking problem.
"There's not that big a difference between 2 and 5, and they're already wasted at 2," she said. "If you close at 2, they're just going to go somewhere else and get it. That's an individual problem, not a bar problem."
Her husband, Doc, said closing at 2 would cost the Lighthouse $800 or $900 per week, but Ogan's bill probably is fair.
"Sometimes, (the later closing time is) good for the bar, business-wise, but you have to question how good it is for people," he said.
Still, he said, many early morning patrons are just shift-workers getting off the job late, not all-night drinkers.
"If you've got two construction crews working down the road and they're getting off late, they come in here, have a couple of drinks and go to bed," he said.
A 2 a.m. closure might shut them out.
Juneau requires bars to close by 1 a.m. on weekdays and 3 a.m. on weekends. Ogan's bill would close them an hour earlier on Friday and Saturday nights.
Marlintini's Lounge owner Ethan Billings said he sometimes grosses $1,000 in that last hour of business. The bill "could be disastrous for a small business guy who employs 30 people and has a great record," he said.
He said the Legislature should let municipalities determine closing hours.
But Ogan said assault and domestic violence reports in Southcentral Alaska spike between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m.
"I think ... there are people who get done drinking at 3, then come home and hit their wives pretty hard. I've ridden with the troopers on all-night shifts, and that's when the (domestic violence) happens," he said.
Juneau police Capt. Tom Porter said that although Juneau has not seen a large spike in assaults and domestic violence between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m., police have seen increases in accidents that could be alcohol related. He said closing local bars earlier is "worth considering."
"People (would) have less legal time to drink in Alaska," he said. "That could have a positive effect on the drinking problems."
Kenai's Lt. Kohler said he would be reluctant, without tabulating calls, to say there is a special problem with alcohol-related calls at any particular time of day. Soldotna's Chief Warner said domestic violence calls can come at any hour, day or night.
"DWIs might be a little more after the bars close," she said. "But it's not so drastic that I would say, 'Close the bars earlier so they don't drink as much. I don't see a huge problem in that arena."
However, she said, drunken driving is a big problem that takes many lives.
"It's admirable that they're trying to find ways to deal with this," she said.
Juneau Empire reporter Kathy Dye contributed to this story.
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