Published Date Written by Barbara Tetreault
BERLIN – The city will become the first in the state to take advantage of a new state law allowing bars and restaurants to extend last call to 2 a.m.
The legislature last summer passed a bill granting communities the authority to allow bars and restaurants to serve alcohol an extra hour beyond the usual 1 a.m. closing.
The city council Monday night agreed it is willing to extend last call for local bars and restaurants until 2 a.m., provided they first get approval from the police commission.
The council will prepare a formal ordinance for passage authorizing restaurants and bars in Berlin to serve alcohol until 2 a.m. The ordinance will stipulate the police commission will have the authority to approve and revoke the 2 a.m. last call for individual establishments.
The issue came up because Fagin's Pub owner Sean Lamontagne made a written request to the council to be allowed to take advantage of the new state law and extend last call to 2 a.m. Lamontagne said he felt the extra hour would provide "a needed boost to my business."
Berlin Police Chief Peter Morency told the city council he was not opposed to the idea but wanted conditions attached. The chief said he had no problem with responsible business owners being allowed to serve alcohol until 2 a.m. But he said he wanted the police commission to have some ability to regulate which bars and restaurants are allowed the later closing.
Councilor Russell Otis said he talked to a lot of bar owners in the city and most liked having the option of serving alcohol until 2 a.m. But Councilor Roland Theberge expressed some concern. He said under the current statute, patrons are allowed to remain until 1:30 a.m. to finish their drinks. He said he was concerned that extending last call would increase incidents of drunk driving.
Morency said he checked with the N.H. Liquor Commission and no community has yet taken advantage of the new law to approve a later last call. So he said there is no data on the impact in other communities. If Berlin goes forward, Morency said the rest of the state will be watching.
Mayor Paul Grenier said he believes extending last call will have zero negative impact. He said Berlin is pretty quiet at night and predicted most restaurants and bars in the city will not be interested. He said he envisions the 2 a.m. last call will be used mainly for special occasions.
Furthermore, Grenier said he thinks the public has gotten the message about not driving after drinking and most people out enjoying drinks have a designated driver.
Grenier proposed that individual restaurant and bar owners have to meet with the chief and police commission and get the commission's approval to extend last call. He said the commission can revoke approval if there are problems such as fights or excessive police calls from an establishment. Grenier said the police commission will be the final arbitrator and its decision will stand.
Councilor Theberge said he could support the extended last call given the conditions outlined by the mayor and chief. Noting that neither Morency nor Deputy Chief Brian Valerino was opposed, Councilor Mike Rozek said he was also willing to approve the measure.