Go Local Prov: New Nightclub Laws Make Downtown Safer

7/23/2011, Dan McGowan-Providence-

When college students all over Providence return to campus next month, they will undoubtedly kick off their years with trips to the city’s many nightclubs and bars. But they could face stricter guidelines when it comes to places they’ll have access to and they will be following a different set of rules than they’ve become accustomed to.

That’s because both the city and the General Assembly passed laws this summer in an attempt to control both underage drinking and the violence that occurs when the bars close early each weekend morning.

Now, bars and nightclubs that fail to prevent underage patrons from consuming alcohol can be barred from having events that cater to young people under the age of 21. In addition, the city has decided to stagger closing times for clubs in a response to a series of melees that took place in part because of the overcrowded downtown area after 2:00am on the weekend.

Underage Drinking Bill

The underage drinking bill in the General Assembly was sponsored by Rep. Chris Blazejewski. His legislation, which was signed into law by Governor Chafee last week, is meant to encourage establishments to comply with laws concerning alcohol and to directly prevent minors from accessing alcohol by shutting off an easy source.

“If nightclubs can’t control underage drinking, it doesn’t make sense to let them admit underage people,” said Blazejewski. “The licensing board needs these tools to respond to violations both as a means of enforcement and for the safety of patrons and the public, especially in light of recent violence at or near some Providence nightclubs.”

Because of the high number of college students in the area, Providence has always been known as a place where the underage crowd could find a place to acquire alcohol. With many clubs promoting 18-and-up nights and some bars failing to ask for identification at the door, students have seen the city as an easy place to drink illegally.

Places Have A Reputation For Serving Underage Crowd

The result, often times, has been trouble for the city at closing time. Fights break out. Intoxicated people get behind the wheel. Downtown becomes a major traffic jam.

Under the new law, the places known for allowing underage drinking will likely enforce stricter guidelines so they can continue to allow young people to at least enter their place of business.

“Places that have a proven reputation for serving minors become magnets for those who are underage and want to drink,” said Providence Senator Harold Metts. “That reputation is actually a competitive advantage, bringing more people to that club to drink and spend money. Not only are they violating the law, but they’re making a profit as a direct result of that illegal activity.”

State Rep. Joy Hearn echoed her colleague’s thoughts. She said establishments known for serving underage drinkers should be punished.

“If we are serious about preventing underage drinking, we can’t let those who repeatedly serve minors continue to invite them into their clubs,” she said. “Those establishments have already shown they are either unable or unwilling to stop them from drinking, so they shouldn’t be allowed to let them though the door.”

Staggered Closing Time

The new underage drinking law comes shortly after Providence decided to stagger closing times for nightclubs throughout the downtown area. The decision came after rival gangs got into a shootout shortly after the bars closed one night last month. Shots rang out and sent hundreds of clubgoers into a panic.

Now, almost a dozen downtown nightclubs are permitted to stay open until 3:00am on weekend nights, with drink service still ending at 2:00am. The city hopes the changes will alleviate some of the congestion that takes place downtown and possibly, some of the crime.

But will it work?

“I think it will make for less of a traffic jam downtown,” said Kevin Hoffman, a Providence student from the West End. “I’m not sure about the crime. As long as there is alcohol, there will probably be crime.”