Editor's Note: The second sentence of the third paragraph in this editorial contains material similar to an article in the Providence Journal ("Annaldo: Ban under-21 crowd from clubs," Feb. 11, 2010). An Editor's Note was published in the April 14, 2010, Herald. That Editor's Note can be found here.
In the aftermath of a bloody fight that broke out at the downtown Club Elements in the early hours of New Year's Day, city officials have been thinking hard about how to address nightclub violence in Providence. They should keep thinking. The proposal floating around right now — banning everybody under age 21 from clubs that serve alcohol — will do little to make the city safer, and will do a lot to harm Providence nightlife.
This isn't the first time the issue of underage club patrons has come up. State legislators introduced a bill in 2001 that would have banned those under 21 from nightclubs, but the legislation was ultimately tailored to be a little more sensible than an outright ban. Since then, clubs with special licenses have been allowed to admit the under-21 crowd as long as they use hand stamps or bracelets to identify legal drinkers. In addition, to prevent patrons from buying drinks and distributing them to underage individuals, clubs are only allowed to serve customers one drink at a time.
Advocates of a ban say something needs to be done to curb nightclub violence. We agree — in the past several years, downtown nightclubs have been the sites of murders, stabbings and a number of fights. But banning underage drinkers from clubs may do more harm than good, and we hope the city will think twice before implementing such a policy.
City officials must realize that not all clubs are problem clubs. While it might be wise to ban the under-21 crowd from a place like Club Elements, which attracts many youth affiliated with street gangs, an all-out ban on underage drinkers would also affect establishments like Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel. Rich Lupo, the owner of the concert venue, told the Providence Journal last week that a ban on the under-21 crowd would put him out of business. Even if it didn't, smaller audiences would mean smaller budgets to bring in bands. A ban on the under-21 crowd could severely cripple the live music scene in Rhode Island, not to mention the range of weekend entertainment options for young adults throughout the state.
The good news is that, so far, the ban is only an idea. Legislation has not been introduced, and city officials have been thinking about other approaches as well, such as cracking down on compliance and club management. These solutions are far more suitable, as they spare clubs like Lupo's that attract large numbers of young patrons and have virtually no problems with alcohol-related violence. If officials are intent on banning underage drinkers from clubs, they should at least follow Boston's lead and include an exception for clubs with live music or entertainment. Since events are the main draw at these establishments and alcohol is merely accessory, it is not only unfair to ban the under-21 crowd, but also unnecessary.
Providence may have lost its nickname of "Renaissance City" — Mayor David Cicilline '83 replaced it with "Creative Capital" last year — but it still has a lively night scene. We hope the city can eliminate nightclub violence without harming evening entertainment.
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