Council appears reluctant to readdress late hours
An issue that strongly divided the Round Rock community and the City Council nearly a decade ago may be bubbling to the surface again as some bar owners have once more begun clamoring for later hours, especially on weekends.
However, any change may be unlikely in the near future as the council seems reluctant to take up the issue at this time.
The issue was given relevance recently when a letter sent to the City Council by Quinns—a downtown bar—General Manager Brodie Owen prompted council members Craig Morgan and Kris Whitfield to ask the Chamber of Commerce to survey Round Rock business owners on the topic.
The results, which were presented at a City Council packet briefing May 8, were far from conclusive. Of the 177 businesses in Round Rock that responded to the survey, 54.7 percent supported expanding the hours, while 29.9 percent opposed.
Of the responses, only 10 were bar owners, eight of whom said they would likely not stay open until 2 a.m. if the option were available.
However, according to City Secretary Sara White, there are 115 establishments with liquor licenses that would be eligible for late hours. Additionally, bar owners and managers interviewed by Community Impact Newspaper seemed to largely favor the change.
“I think Round Rock is robbing itself of a lot of potential,” said William Shields, manager of the newly opened Westside Alehouse. “It’s been this way forever, and it’s not fair to business. It seems like you would want to keep the money in your community.”
The county line
Shields is referring to the fact that restaurants and bars just to the south and west in Travis County—even ones still in Round Rock city limits—can stay open until
Morris Joseph, the owner of Round Rock Tavern in the downtown area, said there is a basic issue of fairness.
“My family owns bars in Austin. They can stay open till 2 [a.m.]. Why can’t we?” he said.
State law dictates that alcohol may be served until midnight on most nights and
1 a.m. on Saturdays (Sunday morning), except in cities and counties that are eligible for late hours. Eligibility comes from either passing an ordinance establishing late hours or from automatic population triggers.
The population triggers happen if a city or county had a population of 500,000 in the 2000 census or 800,000 in the 2010 census. As of the 2010 census, Williamson County’s population was 422,679.
That means that a few bars located in Round Rock but also in Travis County—including places such as Fast Eddie’s and Rick’s Cabaret—can stay open until 2 a.m. while others nearby must close earlier.
While Joseph, Shields and Owen said they would likely use additional hours if available, others said that even if the law were changed, their establishments would not.
“It won’t change us,” said Brett Larson, owner of Junior’s Grill and Icehouse in downtown Round Rock. “I don’t think anything good happens after midnight.”
Larson cited liability issues, staff hours and the level of business downtown as factors that would keep him from keeping Junior’s open later. Still, he said he was neither for nor against changing the hours, and he might even participate if other bars on Main Street stayed open that late.
Terisha Stephens, manager at downtown’s Krave Wine Bar and Bistro, said Krave would also likely not take advantage of expanded hours.
Even the owners who wanted later hours agreed that liability issues can be a concern.
“Do you want revenue or liability?” Owen said. “There is a moral, legal and business ethical responsibility to serve alcoholic beverages responsibly.”
Segrio Sanchez, the owner of El New Goalpost on Mays Street, agreed.
“It’s good and bad, I think, for us,” he said, citing lower liability as a good reason to keep earlier hours. “It’s bad because we do miss out on some money, on some business.”
However, he said, there is a flip side to the liability issue. Those who want to drink until 2 a.m. will regardless of where they go, he said, often traveling to other bars to do so.
“Ninety-five percent of my business heads over [to Homer’s Bar and Grill on Wells Branch Parkway],” after he closes, Sanchez said. “I think it’s safer if we keep them here in Round Rock.”
San Marcos, a city about half the size of Round Rock, extended its bar hours until 2 a.m. in 2008 and performed a subsequent study to measure the effect. While arrests for driving while intoxicated did increase when the law was passed, other related issues dropped—such as noise complaints, aggravated assaults and citations for public intoxication.
The study concluded that late hours “seem to have had little effect citywide, except for increases in arrests for driving while intoxicated and a decrease in loud noise calls.”
However, at this time, it does not appear the City Council is willing to tackle an issue that caused a number of political headaches in 2003 without a stronger movement from the populace.
“I don’t know that there really has been a change in attitude,” Morgan said at the May 8 meeting. “My initial thought is that it just doesn’t seem like support’s out there from the bar owners themselves.”
Part of the issue is that expanded bar hours was a divisive issue when it first came up in 2003.
“It was a big convoluted mess,” Mayor Alan McGraw said of the first time the city tackled the issue.
According to McGraw, the city initially passed an ordinance expanding bar hours by a vote of 4–3. That ordinance was then challenged by a petition from citizens to repeal it. The council then turned around and voted 4–3 to repeal the change.
Still, council members did seem to agree that the issue would eventually come up again, even if the community support was not yet there.
“I think it’s pretty clear that it’s not anything that’s overwhelming,” Whitfield said. “I think at this point we leave it, and if there’s a group that comes forward, we can look at it then.”