Editorial: Later closing time for restaurant, bar owners would keep dollars from walking out the door

Should Carroll County’s restaurants, bars and taverns be allowed to stay open later and serve alcohol until 2 a.m.? The county’s Board of License Commissioners, commonly called the liquor board, was asked by the county’s delegation to Annapolis to pose that question and hopes to get feedback from the community when it meets again Feb. 13.

Closing time in the surrounding Maryland counties of Baltimore, Frederick and Howard, as well as bordering Adams and York counties in Pennsylvania is 2 a.m. Carroll is the only jurisdiction among them where last call comes before a 1 a.m. closing time.


On many weeknights, this probably isn’t a big deal. Even if an establishment can stay open until 2 a.m. on a random Tuesday, if the business isn’t there, it doesn’t make much sense to keep the doors unlocked and paying staff for one or zero customers.

But as the weekend nears, that changes. And Carroll residents who are looking to go out and imbibe may instead take their business to a neighboring county where they can stay out later. Or, even if they start the night in Carroll, might pack up and leave to head to another bar in Reisterstown, Thurmont or Littlestown, Pa.

That’s probably a lot of money walking out the door and being spent elsewhere. Patrons likely aren’t making those decisions at the last minute, rather it’s happening earlier in the night, so it’s not just one round local bars are missing out on, it’s probably two or three.

Among the issues brought up by the liquor board were whether a change would increase revenue or increase operating costs, if there would be a limited number of establishments that are allowed to remain open until 2 a.m., or if a license fee cost more for additional hours.

If the board were to make a change, we think having special licenses that cost more would be too much of a headache, particularly if there were a limited amount of licenses. Make the change across the board to be fair to all establishments or don’t do it at all. Charging more for the extra hour also doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense if you go this route, since it doesn’t really change any of the requirements for the bar.

Regarding revenue versus expenses, as we noted earlier, that would be up to the business owner to figure out. A change in the law does not require an establishment be open later, just as the existing closing time does not mean every bar must be open until 1 a.m. each night.

“If you’re a smart operator, you're going to learn the pattern of when you’re going to open and when you’re going to be closed,” said David Johansson, owner of Johanssons Dining House and other businesses in the county, who spoke in favor of the later closing time on Jan. 9.

The biggest drawback to the later time may be public safety. Will giving customers more time to consume alcohol lead to a greater number of intoxicated drivers on our streets? Honestly, it probably won’t, it will simply shift the hour they are on the road. Obviously, we would discourage anyone from driving intoxicated and would hope that, if they are able to go out closer to home, perhaps drinkers would be more likely to call a ride-sharing service (which would be cheaper because of the shorter distance) or leave their vehicle overnight because it’s not as inconvenient to get it the next day as it would be in a neighboring county, or find a sober driver willing to pick them up or take them home.

Unless public safety officials have a strong objection, we don’t see much downside for business owners to have the option to stay open an hour later. We look forward to hearing more feedback when the liquor board meets next month, on Feb. 13 in Room 308 of the Carroll County Office Building, 225 N. Center St. in Westminster.