July 27, 2006

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An uneasy relationship between clubs, booze
Under 21 money is steady but small; Manchester turns its gaze on the 18-year-old clubgoer
By Erica Febre efebre@hippopress.com

Recently, nightclub owners in Manchester have found out a liquor license is not a right but an easily lost privilege.

While several clubs within the downtown area feel that they are being discriminated against and their integrity is in question, city officials claim that the purpose of liquor license denials is safety.

"We understand the city's concerns for safety and we've addressed all of the issues. However, we also don't feel that we got a fair hearing. You can't measure everybody by the same stake," said Dana Clay, the manager of Velocity (an under-21 event) at Electra Night Club said. Electra Night Club, located at 22 Fir Street in downtown Manchester, was denied a liquor license by the town after completing a series of requirements to receive the permit.

Now, the City of Manchester Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug (ATOD) Task Force is in the process of approaching city officials about 18-plus clubs (clubs that allow in patrons not legal to drink while alcohol is still being served to 21-year-old and older customers).

"When more young people are exposed to alcohol, there are more alcohol-related crimes that we see within the community. We're interested in what's best for the youth; What message are we giving to the youth and what is a more responsible way to approach these issues," said Martin Boldin, director of the office of youth services in the city of Manchester.

Boldin expressed his concern that the task force is not out to target any specific clubs or venues but rather is addressing the underage drinking issue in its entirety. Underage drinking, admitted by most people involved in the issue, is something that occurs before these teens enter the doors of local venues.

"It's our job to advise the local policy makers. We need to find other outlets for the youth, other ways for them to occupy their time," Boldin said.

At the license-less Electra, the doors are only open to those ages 15 to 20 and there is, of course, no alcohol, ever. This is a fully enforced restriction with guards at the door. Signs and logos promoting alcohol and liquor had to be removed from the premises, costing a lot of money to remove from embedded mirrors.

"It's already a deterrent for those of a legal drinking age, since there is no alcohol on the premises. They already know not to come here," Clay said.

Selling liquor adds to the income of these establishments but Electra and clubs with nights for underage patrons state that they make enough money through soft drink sales and cover charges to pay the bills.

Nearby at the corner of Bridge and Elm streets, Envy has liquor license but still sets aside certain nights for the underage crowd.

"It's just a little something for the underage crowd to do during the summer season. It's like one big high school dance. I'm not here to make a quick buck, just the steady nickel and opening the doors to the underage crowd is just another source of income," Carmelo Bari, owner of Envy, said.

Bari said parents are welcome to scope out the club. Bari estimates that more than 90 percent of his customers on regular nights are over 21.

On Sunday nights, Envy has an under 21 night (club goers must be 15 to 20 years old), when Bari said, there is no drinking on the premises and alcohol is removed from sight. During the rest of the week, 18-year-olds can get through the doors when alcohol is being served to those of a legal age but underage clubgoers wear a wrist band or stamp, identifying them as someone that cannot be served alcohol, he said.

"This is my neighborhood too. I'm only trying to contribute to the community what I can. We pay our taxes, just like everyone else," Bari said.

On the other end of Elm Street, Club Omega is dealing with the pressures of having its license revoked. The club went "BYOB" allowing club-goers to bring their own liquor. A few weeks ago it put up signs advertising plans for nude dancing in coming weeks. The signs have caused an uproar, with city officials saying sexually-oriented businesses are not allowed in the spot and with the building's landlord saying that nude dancing would be a violation of the lease and grounds for eviction.


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