Denver Gov to propose bars close down early

The conversation has come up again. A nasty little LoDo incident has led Denver’s commander and chief, Mayor John Hickenlooper to blow the whistle and find a quick fix to the aftermath of the downtown madness occurring each and every Friday and Saturday night. He wants to, get this, shut the night down earlier.

The story is the same; the five dozen plus watering holes have their 2,000 or so sauced patrons partake in a mass exodus, crowding in unison the largest congregation of drunks possible in a seven block area. The numbers allow for virtually no cabs to accommodate; the area is gridlocked, flooded by whiffled boozehounds with nowhere to go. Local food vendors, both licensed carts and guerilla tamale vendors have capitalized on this; feeding the frenzy and essentially turning LoDo into an out of control street party. Naturally, bad things happen.

The latest episode that reopened the idea took place in the early a.m. hours of June 22 at a parking lot at 18th and Market, when police mortally shot one man, and injured another; only after the two were engaged in a gunfight with another suspect. It comes just half a year after Theodore Padilla, 25, was fatally gunned down outside the now closed Hush nightclub a few blocks away at a similar hour of the morning.

Hickenlooper’s fix: stagger the closing times of the establishments serving the booze, shutting some down before others, in theory curtailing the stampede of glassy-eyed idiots looking for trouble. But he’s got it completely backwards—we need to stay open later.

I will be the first to admit Denver night crawlers have to take some responsibly for their behavior. Never, and I say never have I seen a city act as utterly insane, albeit all together, than Downtown Denver at closing time. I am not a small guy, but at times it’s scary to be in the middle of the mass of humanity, the nearest inhibition miles away. Fights, vomit and tears can be found slurring at the end of any week, all very isolated incidents, but all very visible. However this, for the most part, is a direct result of closing at 2 a.m., not Denver lacking carousing etiquette.

Few other major entertainment districts ever close that early. I covered nightlife in Las Vegas for years, a city with exponentially more opportunity for debauchery and excess, yet on no account have I witnessed the level of collaborative drunk behavior that happens on any random weekend in LoDo. Why? When you have until 4 a.m., even 3, nobody is racing to get wasted. The night gradually disperses, things wind down, people fall off and there is a nice, calm, wobbly glide into sunrise.

Several bar owners are up in arms over Hickenlooper’s idea. They claim 12 a.m.-2 a.m. are the most profitable hours, shortening that slot would drastically hurt profits. Hmm. Why is that time the most profitable? Maybe because people are trying to get as much liquid dynamite in as possible before getting cutoff at 1:30 a.m.? I can’t count the number of times I have seen patrons doing back-to-back shots at 1:15 a.m., all this while ordering three more rounds of drinks so they can keep their party going long after the lights come on. Then our city officials are puzzled why there are problems on the sidewalk. Give me a break.

Stagger the closing times?! John, you owned a bar, you can’t be serious. Our inebriates might not be the sharpest group, but don’t you think they have the wit to stumble to another gin mill that has the later closing time? Thus we cram even more sozzled testosterone into one place. Good call.

The ironic thing about all this is LoDo is spectacular. Some of the best bars in the state are there; it is unfortunate the final bow can taint the whole show. This city’s nightlife has evolved for the better and Lower Downtown is the catalyst and the keystone of that change, yet a seasoned night owl like myself is inclined to keep visits to a minimum. A decent dinner usually doesn’t wrap up until 10 p.m., and I know I have to head out of the corridor by 12:30 a.m., if I want to avoid the chaos. That too is another issue: many people don’t even get to a club before 11 p.m., which initiates the urge to cram a nights worth of drinks into three hours—a recipe for disorder.

One can only hope that the start of Sunday liquor sales is a step in the right direction; it is obvious Denver has outgrown its outdated laws. People will always drink, party and undoubtedly there will be the occasional incident—it is the nature of the beast. I am not sure if keeping the bars open longer would have prevented the morons with the 12 gauge last Sunday, but it would have assured there were not as many people around increasing the risk of further catastrophe (thankfully the mayor is also reexamining gun laws as well). Moreover, it definitely would have reduced the number of unreported altercations that happened in the moments before, perhaps leading to the shooting.

You want to improve the safety of LoDo and in turn make it more attractive to people who don’t enjoy early morning amateur UFC bouts on 15th Street? Stop closing the bars so damn early and let the people enjoy themselves; the night will take care of itself. The last thing to do is to start throwing people out earlier. Just don’t take away the tamale vendors, there are few late night treats as divine, and I can only imagine how much better they would taste at four in the morning.

By Justin Jimenez
June 25, 2008