the other side of midnight
for the latest on the yeoman's work to keep our city safe, prosperous and well-represented, from the downtown neighborhood association's blog, you can start by getting some useful background here, but the nutshell is that the city licensing commission is rapidly becoming the center of both the problem and the roadblock to its resolution. (good news being it can also become the agency of our salvation, should it choose to act--we can only hope...)
but to summarize from when i first came upon the situation, when i first moved here more than four years ago, i was appalled to see the open and arrogant flaunting of rules and laws related to the dispensing of alcohol, both retail and over-the-bar. stories in the paper were just the tip of the iceberg. regular stings catching liquor stores serving to minors. bars serving to minors. overserved patrons fighting in the bars, around the bars and all over the streets and back alleys. and most visible of all, trash, broken bottles, vandalized public and private property, vomit and urine strewed and spewed about the streets every morning. to the everlasting credit to the superintendent of police and his able and creditworthy force, none of it was ever tolerated, and all of it was assiduously pursued and policed. liquor stores and bars were brought before the license commission on violations. violent (criminal) elements were brought before the courts for their crimes. everything was agreed to need to be improved.
so what has happened in the past four years?
the license commission has almost always, and i mean almost ALWAYS sided with the liquor stores and bars, and when they did choose to act, only handed out token and wholly ineffective "sanctions" which hardly ever caused these businesses to pause in their profligacy. the old incarnation of the dubliner and the long-gone under impact are the only two establishments i can recall ever receiving more than a wrist-slap from that hardly-august body. i'm sure there have been more, and i'd welcome someone who might know to contribute a comment to update this small list. but i'll tell you right now the list of places NOT receiving any meaningful consequence for their illegal operations is far longer. the exception today that proves this rule is the souper bowl, whose patrons have taken to firing guns off in the parking lot to celebrate the lawlessness of the place, serving beyond hours and to underage and/or intoxicated patrons. only upon this repeated and atrocious series of extremely danger to the public, has the license commission voted not to renew (that's right, not to renew--no interruption of the granted license was ever made) their certificate for, as much if not more than all the rest, for submitting the paperwork late. it's an embarrassment to the city, but the long list of other establishments provided by the police, complete with chapter and verse on all the laws and regulations broken, has come to nothing else. the smokehouse is still feeding drinks to underage girls. fights are still breaking out on the street (follow the LDNA link for a video of one) among the overserved patrons at the blue shamrock, fueled by free booze poured from bottles directly into the mouths of patrons by near-naked barmaids dancing on the bar, (yup, picture the wild west without only the west), and cops are still being spat upon, pelted by lit cigarettes, and pepper sprayed by literal rioters in the streets outside brian's ivy hall.
so lets separate hype from hyperbole. you know i still go out every night of the week, to everywhere from one side of downtown (the back page) to the other (furey's) and almost everywhere in between. my favorite spots are the back page, (best entertainment), the old court, (best irish pub), cobblestones, (best burgers and other food), and the worthen, (best classic old lowell bar), but i'll also say that the dubliner's renovations and beer selection are pretty good, furey's divey-ness is unmatched, the smokehouse, despite its sometimes clientele, gets credit for both its tv screens as well as its tap beer selection, and i'm known to turn up at ole and majors and fuse and fortunato's and many others as the music or other considerations lead me. so i'm not deterred by the incidents to feel unsafe, though i would not, not EVER, allow my kids to be out on the downtown streets at night, and i worry about my less street-savvy female friends, and even the savvy ones depending on the hour and the location. no, this is not an unqualified endorsement, nor do i think it is a recipe for downtown revitalization and economic viability as it stands. things need to be improved, or they will slide back into anarchy.
so where is the license commission on all of this? they are trash talking downtown residents for being complainers without the commitment to show up at their 3:30pm afternoon meetings, and then foot-dragging to the point of obfuscational jawboning about possible legal action to stop their meeting times being directed by the city council to the evenings. (none of which is possible because they have no leg to stand on to resist, so meeting times will indeed be changed). commission chair walter bayliss has tried to blow smokescreens about costs, (the police overtime argument being the funniest--the cops who need to testify are on nights, and actually it potentially costs MORE to send them to afternoon meetings than evening ones, but lets not digress), and gotten on his soapbox to bloviate an incredible quantity of nonsense without substance or point whatsoever. he's been cornered, FINALLY, to follow open meeting law requirements to post agendas 48 hours in advance as had never been previously done, and he's finally being shown to be the out-of-touch anachronism and impediment to progress that he so surely is. (the other commission members are better, but not as yet taking action to use their majority to do more right things).
so here's the litmus test. will violators be sanctioned? beyond just the souper bowl? will commissioners respond to police reports and not bar owners excuses? will grievances by downtown non-liquor business owners who are having their patrons having to step over the vomit and urine on their vandalized doorsteps count as much as those whining excuses by the bar owners pocketing their profits while they proverbially piss on their neighbors? will violence and vandalism decrease, along with the costs to the city to pay extra police presence to try to keep up with its increase? or will the license commission continue to rubber stamp and run interference for the bar owners who break the law?
i, for one, hope the commission begins to get that the downtown neighborhood association, downtown both liquor-and-non-liquor businesses, the police, the residents and the visitors to our should-be-fair city all agree that something needs to improve, and that their refusal to sanction violators is the linchpin in the strategy to make positive change. the police are arresting people and citing violations. the neighborhood is reporting everything they see. now lets give the violating bar owners the notice that their privilege to continue violating both rules and laws related to their sale of alcohol will be curtailed and necessarily revoked if they do not get on board.
it's pretty straightforward and simple. you don't have to overserve to make a living downtown. lots of places are doing it. so don't do it. and stop making downtown lowell a destination for underage and violent patrons. we don't need 'em.
there's music and otherwise to be enjoying otherwise.