If Louisville restaurateurs get their way, you soon could be drinking mimosas and bloody Marys as early as 10 a.m. on Sundays in their restaurants.
For nearly two years, local operators and the Kentucky Restaurant Association have teamed up to convince local Louisville’s Metro Council that dumping the longstanding “no alcohol before 1 p.m. on Sundays” rule is a good thing.
The issue comes up for a vote on Thursday when the council convenes next, and according to several sources, it appears they agree the old statute is on the way out.
Currently, some 300 Jefferson County restaurants are allowed to serve alcohol on Sunday, but only after 1 p.m.
Restaurateurs say that not only deprives them of significant revenue, it irritates customers who want a light adult beverage with their bacon and beignets.
(Any server who’s worked a Sunday brunch in Louisville knows some customers darn near demand blood when you deny them a bloody Mary.)
Popping the champagne corks three hours early would be a boon for business, said Larry Rice, operating partner at The Silver Dollar. The Clifton honky-tonk restaurant serves a terrific So-Cal-Mex mashup brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.
“Even if no more customers than normal didn’t come to the restaurant on Sunday, the chance to buy a bloody Mary or mimosa would raise our check average 15 to 20 percent at least,” said Rice. “It’s no surprise that our biggest push for business is at 12:30 (p.m.) People sit down, have their coffee and O.J., order their food and by the time it arrives, they’re ready to order bloody Marys and mimosas.”
Baxter Station Bar & Grill owner Andrew Hutto has pushed for changing the policy personally with Metro Councilmembers since last October. When he renewed his liquor license last fall, he questioned whether the “blue law” that kept the bar closed until 1 p.m. was enforced by Kentucky or Louisville. A bit of legwork revealed it was a city-controlled issue.
“When I finally got a letter from the state saying it was a locally controlled ordinance, I started talking to people on the council,” said Hutto. “I met with David Tandy, talked to Tina Ward-Pugh, Tom Owen and Mayor Greg Fisher, and everyone sort of agreed with my point of view that there’s no downside to changing the law. It’s total upside because that’s more restaurants open on Sunday, it makes convention-goers happy, restaurants get busier and hire more people and there’s more tax revenue generated.”
Not everyone would be happy with the change. A recent Courier-Journal article quoted Donald Cole, executive director of the Kentucky League on Alcohol and Gambling Problems (KLAGP), saying, “anytime you increase outlets (that sell liquor), there is always an increase in problems. That is a blanket statement, but it’s clearly true.”
Cole also suspects earlier liquor sales would tempt some to take a seat at a bar rather than their usual seat in a pew on Sunday.
“People who go to church aren’t going to skip church because they can get a drink earlier, they’re still going to go to church,” said Hutto, who estimates his Sunday morning sales would rise by 20 percent if the law is changed. “Whether alcohol sales start earlier is immaterial. It’s not as though everyone’s going out to get a drink, the key is they want a choice.”
Especially if they’re convention-goers or Urban Bourbon Trail followers, said Hutto.
“These people look at us and say, ‘You mean we can’t get a drink until 1?’ And a lot of these are people who are Urban Bourbon Trail visitors who come here specifically to do some of the Trail in a weekend,” he said. Hutto added that most UBT visitors set out to get six stamps on their “passport” in the course of a weekend, and that if they throw in a distillery tour on Saturday, they’re usually “pretty jammed up trying to finish it on Sunday. So when you tell them they can’t get a bourbon drink before they need to be going, they’re not happy.”
Stacy Roof, president and CEO of the Kentucky Restaurant Association, said her group has worked “pretty intensely” behind the scenes for nearly two years to change the law.
She’s confident the Council agrees with her membership and will vote for a 10 a.m. restriction.
If it’s changed, “I think it’ll give the city a tool to bring up when working to get convention business here,” she said. (Metro Councilman David Tandy, D-4th District, who suggested the law be changed, told the C-J he’s also confident his peers would vote for change.) “Before, knowing that you couldn’t sell alcohol before 1 was probably something (convention solicitors) didn’t bring up.”
Roof, like the restaurateurs interviewed, said the majority of Sunday diners are having a day off and want to relax; they’re not out to party. They only want a drink they’d not have for breakfast on any other day of the week.
“Not everybody, but a lot of people going out for breakfast want to have a bloody Mary or a mimosa,” she said. “Travel to other cities and you’ll see that’s not an issue.”
The KLAGP’s concerns that extra alcohol service hours could cause trouble are unfounded, said Rice, since “nobody’s asking us if they can do shots. …Doing that doesn’t concern us any more than having a 4 a.m. liquor license. It’s still part of our job to regulate how much they consume in a restaurant, and that would be normal.”