Updated: January 17, 2014 at 9:42 pm
DENVER - Bars and nightclubs that blanket Lower Downtown, where often boozy patrons make mass exits at 2 a.m. on weekends, could stay open even longer and serve alcohol under proposed legislation.
But the would-be law's intention is not to just keep the party rocking. Its real aim is to help cities like Denver and Colorado Springs deal with unruly crowds that leave these establishments in droves and have been the source of violent altercations. In Colorado, alcohol cannot be served after 2 a.m. at bars. The proposed law gives cities the option to allow bars to serve alcohol until 7 a.m. Liquor stores would still have to close at midnight.
"When you mix alcohol and large crowds exiting at the exact same time, that's when problems occur," said state Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, the bill's sponsor. "We're giving cities the option to allow bars to stay open longer and serve if they want."
A barrage of fights and occasional shootings have plagued LoDo in recent years, and Duran said this is one way to address the problem.
States such as New York and Illinois allow establishments to sell alcohol until 4 a.m. to accommodate cities that have vibrant nightlife scenes.
"It's all about a steady process, as people leave throughout the night and bars close at different times. Everyone isn't just pouring out of bars all at once," Duran said.
In Denver, Mayor Michael Hancock was briefed by local stakeholders in August about a plan to make the area safer. Among the items outlined was amending the city's licensing to allow bars to stay open after 2 a.m. and not serve alcohol, limiting food peddlers that can cause crowds to huddle and creating flexible taxi stands.
A spokesperson for Hancock said the mayor had not taken a position on the proposed legislation.
While Duran does have the backing of groups such as the Downtown Denver Partnership Inc., the Colorado Restaurant Association and Tavern League of Colorado want to see the bill amended.
The way the measure is written, local jurisdictions would have the authority to reset hours alcohol can be sold by bars and restaurants - which could mean some cities might prohibit bars from selling alcohol even well before the 2 a.m. law in place.
"So in Greeley, bars, for example, could have to stop selling alcohol earlier than bars in Denver," said Pete Meersman, president of the Colorado Restaurant Association, who is working with Duran to amend the measure. "We just don't like a possible contraction of the hours."