BERLIN — Though the controversy over drinking in public at Berlin events had quieted following a string of successful and trouble-free festivals, a majority of the Mayor and Council voted Monday not to allow a local restaurant the privilege of operating an outside bar during New Year’s Eve.
“From my perspective, I just have a problem with promoting alcohol in a public street, and it’s not even a town of Berlin street,” said Councilwoman Lisa Hall. “It’s the state highway’s … Who am I to approve putting a bar in a state road?”
This year would have been the second New Year’s Eve event with an outside bar at The Globe. While there was some hesitation from the council in approving the privilege last year, The Globe owner Jennifer Dawicki felt that the fact that the scenario went off without a hitch in 2011 was evidence that her restaurant can run an outdoor bar responsibly.
“We always staff it well. We have a lot of success with it,” said Dawicki, who added that there was also significant demand for the service at the previous event.
Besides speaking with the council, Dawicki had contacted the Worcester County Board of License Commissioners (BLC) to ask permission to establish a temporary outdoor bar during New Year’s. That permission was granted as long as a majority of the town council offered support. But the final vote was 3-2 opposed, with Hall and councilmen Dean Burrell and Elroy Brittingham against allowing the bar and Council members Troy Purnell and Paula Lynch in favor.
Though he wasn’t able to offer a vote in the decision, Mayor Gee Williams made it clear that he was firmly in favor of granting The Globe permission for the temporary bar and called the council majority’s refusal to do so a “step backward” for Berlin.
Berlin has spent more than a year toeing the water over public alcohol consumption at town events. There was considerable wariness initially, at least amongst the council, about the kind of atmosphere that encouraging public drinking could result in. However, there have been no widespread complaints about any of the events so far.
“What we’re doing here is open, monitored, and we haven’t had any incidents,” Williams reminded the council.
Had problems arose, either through noticeable public intoxication, destruction of property, violence or any other kind of unfavorable behavior linked to alcohol, Williams promised that he would be the first to put his foot down.
“This is not a drunken brawl,” he said. “These are classy operations.
According to Williams, Berlin has avoided earning the reputation of a place to get “a cheap drink” and instead is something of a throwback to when social drinking was a respectable event where people controlled themselves and just tried to have a good time. In other words, he does not think that the town is on the path to becoming a new Las Vegas.
But Hall and Brittingham both expressed a worry that the town faced a slippery slope.
“I feel your pain and you talk about a level playing field for you,” Hall told Dawicki. “But unfortunately you have a business that doesn’t have an outdoors so you really don’t have a level playing field. And I just can’t say, ‘Put a bar on the street.’ I mean, that means that all of the restaurants in town technically could be in here saying, ‘I want a bar on the street.’”
Dawicki acknowledged the point but told the council that it would still have the right to judge every application on a case-by-case basis. She underlined her own clean record as proof that she was able to operate an outdoor bar at last year’s event, as well as other town events, with no trouble.
“We’ve not had any issues,” said Dawicki. “We don’t intend to.”
Brittingham explained that his reservations were partially personal and partially an echo of his constituents.
“Since the last time I voted for this, I’ve heard a little flak from the community,” he said. “I’m just thrashing around within myself. I’d feel better not approving it.”
Dawicki asked about the “flak” that Brittingham has received since she said The Globe has not been notified of any complaints. If there are members of the community with concerns, Dawicki wondered why no one has come to her beforehand.
“I’m always available,” she told the council.
For those citizens who were expressing worries to Brittingham, Williams wondered if they had even attended the event, since he maintains that most people who see New Year’s Eve in action won’t leave with any concerns. As for some of the councilmembers own fears, Williams asserted that they were doing the town a disservice by letting their own opinions on drinking and alcohol hurt an event and a business.
“People should not be imposing their personal beliefs on others, and that’s what I think happened,” he charged.
The attitude that drinking in public during celebrations is automatically a bad thing, even when done responsibly, is antiquated and doesn’t belong in Berlin, claimed Williams.
“My grandfather was very much shunned by the community when he opened the first tavern, legal tavern, in Worcester County in the Town of Berlin,” he said. “There were certain organizations and certain churches that treated him terribly. And it ended up being one of the few businesses that survived for almost seven decades.”
After the vote, Dawicki promised the council that she would still do all that she could to make this year’s event as great as possible.
“I will continue to do my best because I take pride in my work, but it is extremely disappointing to have an opportunity taken away from us, as a town, as a community, and especially that event,” Dawicki said.
Dawicki did say that she is hopeful that the town might reconsider their ruling before Dec. 31. She plans on presenting the council with a more in-depth case, one which features some community support from her fellow residents and business owners.
All of the effort Dawicki is applying in the pursuit isn’t just about profits, she promised, but also her belief that The Globe’s street-side bar contributes to a safe, fun evening for everyone at the celebration. Because even with the drinking area for the event expanded this year to include new town restaurants like Siculi and Tex Mex and Beyond, Dawicki expects crowds at the ball-drop to be enormous and difficult to process, a theory supported by Berlin’s previous two New Year’s, which both attracted 1,000 visitors each.
“I am especially concerned about being able to serve all of the guests already making reservations,” she said.
Should the council reconsider Dawicki’s petition, she welcomes any residents with a complaint to air them publically then. However, she added that her door is always open for anyone who would like to discuss a problem with the street bar or The Globe in general privately.
At the same meeting as the one where The Globe’s petition was denied, the council also voted on whether or not any consumption of alcohol will be allowed on specified, closed town streets during the New Year’s Eve celebration. The council decided to allow alcohol to be consumed within the enclosed area. The vote passed 3-2, with Hall and Burrell opposed.