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A 2 a.m. Last Call Would Hurt Louisville Food And Tourism Industries, Bar Owners Say

Southern Foodways Alliance

Some bar owners in Louisville say the city's burgeoning bourbon and food scene could take a hit if the Metro Council changes closing times from 4 a.m. to 2 a.m.

Last week, Metro Councilman Tom Owen, a Democrat who represents the Highlands, said he was mulling whether to propose changing the time bars are required to stop serving alcoholic beverages. Last call in Louisville bars is 4 a.m.

Owen, whose district includes the Bardstown Road/Baxter Avenue entertainment corridor, began looking into the change amid ongoing issues — from alleged drug use to bar fights — at and around the bar Cahoots on Bardstown Road. He said residents have been asking for action.

Owen said it’s a good time to revisit the issue.

“Where we are today is addressing neighborhood concerns, and frankly, my concerns,” Owen said. “I have always believed that our community is a radical exception in allowing 4 o’clock closings.”

But some Louisville bar owners say a change in closing times would be “counterproductive" and serve a blow to the city’s growing credibility as cool bar and food scene.

Matthew Landan owns the Haymarket Whiskey Bar on Market Street. Haymarket is one of a handful of bars that has been gaining national attention — along with the city — thanks to the growing bourbon and dining scenes here.

“We are doing very well in this industry at the moment,” Landan said. “There is a lot of palatable excitement. Whenever I travel outside of the city, people want to come here.”

He said most nights he closes before 4 a.m. But on days when the city has many tourists in town, he said it’s essential for his business to stay open late. Landan said a time change would have broader implications for the city.

“It would hurt the tourism industry,” Landan said.

Mike Skelton, owner of Hilltop Tavern in Clifton, said forcing bars to close earlier could affect a big part of his clientele and business plan: the service industry. Skelton said he serves food until 3 a.m. In most cases, he is serving food late at night to people who work in the city’s restaurants and bars.

“I actually do a large amount of business from midnight to 4 a.m.,” he said.

Besides his own business, Skelton said he's concerned about Louisville's bar culture. He said the 4 a.m. closing time helps the city stand out from other communities.

“It’s actually a selling point,” Skelton said. “It’s part of the reason our bourbon industry is doing so well.”

In recent years, Louisville has gotten national attention for its food scene — and the region's bourbon industry, and the growing number of tourists it draws, is directly related.

This year alone, Louisville has made it onto Travel + Leisure’s “America’s Best Cities for Foodies” list, as well as many other similar lists. Thrillist even created a special edition centered on Louisville’s food and booze scene.

That attention is something the city should protect, Skelton said. Landan agreed.

“We are getting a lot of love nationally,” he said. “We have an incredibly open playing field. And I would be hesitant to slap a citywide correction on that for fear that it would set a new tone.”

Owen said he is not oblivious to the role the food and spirits scene plays in the city's national reputation. He said he takes concerns about damaging that reputation seriously.

“Of course there is a concern for its impact on tourism, but on balance you have to make a decision,” he said. “I think our community even as a destination for visitors and tourists would be safer, stronger, more civil and at the same time, have plenty of opportunity for savoring good drink and for eating good food."

Both Skelton and Landan said there is a way for the city to deal with the issue of troublesome bars without hurting other responsible bar owners.

The state administers liquor licenses for bars until midnight. Louisville Metro, however, issues two other licenses: one from midnight to 2 a.m. and another from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m.

Skelton and Landan said it would make much more sense for the city to revoke — or simply not renew — the licenses of bars that draw problems into communities.

Landan said the city should take a “surgical approach” instead of a blanket policy change.

Owen said he’s still researching the idea and plans to gauge interest from the full Metro Council before moving forward. He said it could take months before the council votes on something, if he decides to introduce an ordinance.

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