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Under new law, bars may close later

It's a typical weekend scene: 2:01 on Saturday morning. From Kartabar to Spats to Viva, the doors of Thayer Street's bars are locked shut, with hundreds of patrons filing out onto the street.

Now imagine the future. It's 3:01 on Saturday morning. From Kartabar to Spats to Viva, the doors of Thayer Street's bars are locked shut, but most patrons have already trickled out — and those who are left are markedly more sober than they were just an hour before.

New state legislation, passed by the General Assembly during last month's special session, authorizes the city to delay the closing time of bars and clubs to 3 a.m. on weekends, but prohibits the sale of alcohol past the old closing time, 2 a.m.

The legislation is "aimed at eliminating the typical 2 a.m. scene in the city — hundreds of patrons, in various stages of inebriation, pouring into the city's streets and often leading to trouble," according to a Nov. 17 press release from the General Assembly.

During the six-month trial period defined in the bill, the Providence Board of Licenses can authorize bars and clubs to stay open until 3 a.m. on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and the nights before legal state holidays. During the final hour no alcohol can be served and no new customers can enter.

Owners of bars and clubs will have to apply for later hours through the city Board of Licenses, said Andrew Annaldo, the board's chairman. He said the police department, mayor's office, city council and general public will all be part of discussions surrounding the change. Though he said no new licenses will be granted until those discussions are complete, city officials hope the trial program will begin as soon as Jan. 1.

"Pretty much everyone is on board with the program," said Councilman John Lombardi, D-Ward 13, adding that the pressure for later closings has mounted over the past five to seven years as nightlife in the city has increased.

The legislation is aimed at creating more of a "trickling effect," he said. "Right now, there are 7,500 to 10,000 people trying to get out of the same area at once."

The College Hill neighborhood has less late-night activity than downtown and has not experienced major problems with 2 a.m. closings, said Lt. John Ryan, commander of Providence Police Department Dist. 9, which includes Brown's main campus. He said later closings will have a greater effect in areas with a higher density of bars and clubs.

"A more gradual, staggered departure of customers from the clubs over a longer period of time should cut down on the noise, crowding, fights and other problems that have occurred," according to the press release.

Though later hours are authorized only for the six-month trial period, Lombardi said he expects the change to continue indefinitely.

"It's a sunshine provision," he said. "Once you open the door on these issues, it's difficult to close."


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