DENVER (CBS4) – Despite state law that requires bars and restaurants to stop serving alcohol at 2 a.m., Shotgun Willie’s, a strip club in Glendale, along with Glendale City Council, have jumped through a series of complex legal and practical hoops that now allow the club to continue serving booze until 4 a.m. One attorney familiar with the situation calls it “ingenious.” The strip club has been serving liquor and beer until 4 a.m. since August.
“It’s crazy,” said a Shotgun Willie’s bartender who was serving beer and hard liquor last weekend at about 3 a.m. Another employee who was asked about serving booze so late called it “magic.”
Not exactly magic, but the pre-dawn closing time came about through a complex series of legal maneuvers that have now wrested closing-time authority away from the state and given it to the local municipality, in this case, Glendale.
“The decisions are best made on a local level,” said Chuck Line, Glendale’s Deputy City manager, who spearheaded Glendale’s efforts to control how late its bars and restaurants can serve alcohol. “This is a paradigm shift to 50 years of liquor law in Colorado,” said Line. “It’s a big change. It’s a bold new world out there.”
What’s happening now actually began in 2011 when Glendale worked with state lawmakers to pass a law allowing municipalities to establish “entertainment districts” that contained “common consumption areas.” Glendale then established an entertainment district that encompasses Shotgun Willies and other commercial areas of Glendale. A North Glendale Promotional Association was also created to operate the common consumption area, another critical legal hurdle.
Under Glendale Municipal Code, bars in a common consumption area, within an entertainment district and connected to a promotional association, can serve alcohol until 4 a.m., which the nightclub has been doing for about a month. It appears to be a financial windfall. When a CBS4 producer visited Shotgun Willie’s last weekend at 2 a.m., there was a line of patrons waiting to get in, all willing to pay an increased cover charge of $30 per person to get inside and continue drinking long after other bars and restaurants had been forced to close. The club was crowded and busy.
State Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver), a sponsor of the 2011 law that paved the way for Glendale’s extended drinking hours, told CBS4, “Local governments should be allowed to set the hours of their establishments.” He indicated he was supportive of the later closing time in Glendale.
That sentiment is at odds with the state law on closing times. In the Colorado Department of Revenue Liquor Enforcement Division licensee handbook, bar and restaurant owners are told, “Licensees who sell alcohol beverages for consumption on the premises … may sell alcohol beverages to be consumed on the premises, from 7:00 a.m., until 2:00 a.m., 365 days a year.”
According to minutes from a Glendale City Council meeting in July, “The concept behind staggered closings is to eliminate traffic congestion and free up police resources, when everyone is leaving at one given time.” Line said the later closing time “is really beneficial to time-port police resources.” He said by 4 a.m., there are also many more cabs available for patrons who have been drinking in Glendale.
However, Fran Lanzer, Executive Director of the Colorado chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said what’s happening with Glendale is a risky proposition. “If we have a uniform statewide cutoff limit, then every bar has to close by 2 a.m. and that means there is no incentive to leave one bar to try and get to another bar that is going to close later. If there is an option where people could go and potentially continue drinking and continue their night, that would be an incentive for people to drive drunk and take that risk.”
The same arguments came up earlier this year when the state legislature considered a bill that would have allowed cities to decide whether to allow their bars and restaurants to stay open until 4:30 a.m. The bill eventually died.
While extending closing time hours is controversial, other municipalities are apparently eyeing what Glendale did.
“Now that casinos are allowed to stay open 24 hours, there is a lot of interest in Blackhawk of having later drinking hours,” said Steadman. Line said what Glendale and Shotgun Willie’s are doing with extended drinking hours is so enticing, that he has prepared a PowerPoint presentation on how to do it for other municipalities. Line said city officials in Blackhawk have inquired about the extended drinking hours in Glendale as have officials in Morrison. Line said within five years he suspects other bars and restaurants in Glendale and around the state will also be serving liquor well past 2 a.m.