Closing time discussed at Liquor Board hearing, decision likely to come next year

Closing time discussed at Liquor Board hearing, decision likely to come next year
Stacy McQuay, right, serves Frank McCully, left, and Dan Smith, dining off the Restaurant Week menu at Maggie's in Westminster in 2015. Longtime Maggie's owner Jim Breuer testified at a public hearing in favor of extending "last call" in Carroll County until 2 a.m. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times file)

County business owners, law enforcement and Catherine’s Cause spoke at a public hearing on a proposed measure to allow Carroll establishments to serve alcohol until 2 a.m. But the law will likely not go before the Maryland General Assembly until next session.

Currently, the bars, restaurants and taverns may stay open until 1 a.m. with a Carroll liquor license.


The Board of License Commissioners, known informally as the Liquor Board, hosted a public hearing Feb. 13, bringing together about 15 stakeholders from the county.

Board Chairman David L. Brauning Sr. said the deadline for the Carroll delegation to receive proposed legislation from the Liquor Board is usually the first day of September, so the Liquor Board would probably make their recommendation to the local lawmakers before the 2020 session.

“The process that goes through to get legislation passed, [it] takes them sometimes four, five or six weeks,” Brauning said.

The regular session adjourns for 2019 on April 8.

Brauning predicted there would be further discussion of the matter over the summer.

Owners of county bars and restaurants spoke about the pros and cons of staying open later.

Especially for establishments closer to the county lines, like Memories Charcoal House in Mount Airy or Spargo’s in Manchester, owners said they were hurt by competition from nearby bars that are outside of Carroll and can stay open until 2 a.m.

“Around 10:30, 11 o'clock, we could have a full restaurant,” said Memories President Jon Speiser. “They will just pack up and leave … because they can go over and drink till 2 a.m.”

He said ride-share services are becoming more and more common due to demand, and he finds that patrons are responsible about using them rather than driving while intoxicated.

“It puts all the businesses along the periphery of the county at a disadvantage to everybody that's 10 or 15 minutes away,” said Jim Breuer, longtime owner of Maggie’s in Westminster.

In his experience, he said, the people that move from one bar to the next end up becoming more intoxicated when they try to “catch up” after switching establishments.

A staff member at Salerno’s said she was not in favor of staying open later because she believed staff would spend the extra hour trying to get patrons to stop drinking rather than making extra sales.

“I feel like by 1 o'clock, they have had enough,” she said.

Peter Samios, president of the Carroll County Licensed Beverage Association, which represents retail liquor license owners, also spoke in favor of the 2 a.m. closing time, reiterating the competitive disadvantage for Carroll license holders.


Brauning said the board received a number of responses by email and described them as 50-50 for and against the later closing time.

Both law enforcement agencies who sent representatives in person, the Carroll County Sheriff's Office and the Westminster Police Department, didn’t take a stance on either side of the issue.

Sheriff Jim DeWees said: “We don't believe that leaving the establishments open until 2 a.m. is going to increase the amount of intoxicated individuals that we see on our roadways. I’ve looked at a number of the stops that we've made over the last several months not only my office, but the state police, Westminster PD and the other jurisdictions, and it’s pretty nominal.”

He did not think it would mean extra work for law enforcement traffic patrols and, if anything, drunk drivers may be easier to spot after 2 a.m. with thinner traffic on the roads, he said.

Phil and Cindy Mullikin of Catherine’s Cause, a group that seeks to end drunken driving and educate the public about its consequences, also spoke.

Phil Mullikin said they could not find a reason to oppose or approve the proposed law change, and had talked to police and friends who seemed to be about equal on either side of the issue.

He said a friend had suggested a trial period of two years after which the board and lawmakers could look at data and see if the later start time should stay in place.