It must have been a fine sight when downtown Annapolis tavern owners got together recently and decided to cut the feet out from beneath potential future competitors.
Reacting to complaints of noise and disorderly conduct from the influential Ward One Committee, they hatched a proposal that would allow them to keep their own restaurants and bars open until 2 a.m., but would decree a midnight closing time for any future operators.
This piece of anti-competitive scheming may satisfy the Ward One Committee, but it does not satisfy anyone who has even a basic sense of fairness. Under the guise of trying to solve community problems, existing liquor licensees have come up with a brazen plan to increase the value and volume of their businesses, at the expense of any future competitors.
We have sympathy for the residents of downtown Annapolis who feel their quality of life is adversely affected by noisy drunks. But if the problem lies with licensed premises, then the situation calls for a crackdown through enforcement.
A two-tiered structure of closing hours will do nothing to solve that problem, just as it will do nothing to curtail unlicensed drinking on boats or guzzling of alcohol by teen-agers hanging out at parking lots on the waterfront. Yet those are phenomena that account not only for much of the public drunkenness in Annapolis but also for the rowdiness. They can best be combatted through more aggressive policing.
The recent council attempt to deny Buddy's Crabs and Ribs a 2 a.m. closing time shows how contentious these kinds of restrictions can become. Here was an establishment that is no gin joint by any stretch of the imagination trying to get the same rights that at least eight other taverns and restaurants have in the historic district. (Eleven Annapolis residents, claiming to be "adversely affected," are now seeking a court order to have Buddy's license revoked).
Downtown restaurants and taverns are part of the mix that makes Annapolis a vibrant, livable city. But the popularity of the city center also causes problems. That is inevitable.
Some of these problems are easy to solve, others are not. The existing licensees' self-enrichment scheme, however, does little to attack the true sources of drunkenness and rowdiness, which are more often connected with illegal drinking in public than to customers of licensed establishments.