BERLIN — Major events may get a new look and the Berlin Chamber of Commerce a new revenue source after the Town Council on Monday agreed to consider an ordinance that would allow events a one-day suspension of the open container laws.
In the most technical sense, it is illegal to wander off the Atlantic Hotel’s property with any alcohol and similarly illegal to take wine from the premises during the town’s popular 2nd Friday and Holiday Arts Night events. Practically, the rules are both politically and logistically difficult for police to enforce.
After the wildly successful Octoberfest event in which a quite-crowded beer garden was allowed without incident, Community and Economic Development Director Michael Day, working with the chamber, moved to expan the event itself as well as to make room for the possibility of allowing other events to have similar vending opportunities.
“We felt like we’d try asking for a larger area,” he said. “It would still be a contained beer garden, it’s just a larger area.”
In September, the town approved a request by Globe owner Jen Dawicki to have a service bar outside of her restaurant. Although that event, as any other event, has to be approved by the County Liquor Control Board, the town’s approval paved the way for her business to be more competitive during the upcoming New Year’s Eve festivities.
Rather than to continue to have events wherein a small portion of the downtown has the container laws suspended, the new plan would allow the town to approve, on a case-by-case basis, events when the street closings represent the boundaries for alcohol.
Mayor Gee Williams fully supported the notion, saying it would free police to worry about more pressing concerns during large events. He pointed out that during the Octoberfest, confusion between who was allowed where, given the beer garden’s proximity to the Atlantic Hotel’s courtyard, could have been a distraction for patrolling officers.
This isn’t permission to violate the law,” Williams said. “And we’re not doing anything here that would be unique to any community in the area.”
For his part, Police Chief Arnold Downing wanted to make clear to the council that passing the ordinance would not suspend service rules. Restaurants like the Globe would still be required to get special permission to serve off-premise during special events. The only thing the council can change is the enforcement rules on open containers.
Day cited the Salisbury Festival and Sunfest as annual events that are much larger and in much larger spaces than he and the chamber were proposing. He added that should the measure be approved at the next meeting, the chamber would take extraordinary steps to prevent things getting out of hand.
“They’ll want to protect this as much as anybody,” Day said. “These events are going to be such an important asset to the chamber that they will have the incentive not to let it get shut down.”
Whether an open container event suspension is passed, the council approved both next year’s Octoberfest dates and this year’s New Year’s Eve event.
Day said the chamber expects to extend Octoberfest into an all weekend event beginning with “Rocktoberfest” on Friday, Oct. 12, which will combine the successful May Day Play Day event with the beer tasting followed by a more traditional Octoberfest Saturday, Oct. 13.
Booking the bands for that weekend is difficult because of the high demand at festivals all over the region, which is why Day said he sought approval now.
“We want to start booking them while they’re available,” he said.