“We are asking the establishments that employ bouncers to have them easily identified by some sort of garment. The whole purpose of that is to differentiate the staff from the patrons so that if there is some kind of an altercation, the police will know who is in charge,” said Mathiesen.
The New York State Liquor Authority and city ordinance currently requires bouncers to be certified, as well as carry their certification on them while working. There is, however, no requirement stating that they display that certification. Mathiesen’s addition says any bar in the city employing a designated security staff will be subject to the change.
“We think having a visible presence in an establishment might tone down some the problems that might otherwise occur,” said Mathiesen. “This is going above and beyond the requirements of the State Liquor Authority (SLA). They require the bouncers to carry their certification with them. We’re not asking them to display their certification, just that they be easily identified through some sort of garment.”
The new legislation is another turn in the debate over Saratoga Springs’ downtown bar scene during the late night hours, which started heating up after Mathiesen’s tenure as Public Safety Commissioner began back in January. The commissioner campaigned on the promise to see something done about the reports of unruly behavior and public intoxication. This led to the much talked about idea of changing the last call hour in Saratoga Springs from 4 a.m. to 3 a.m.
“We spent 30 years building the nightlife here in Saratoga, and I don’t think it’s a good idea for the commissioner to be messing with that,” said John Baker, owner of Gaffney’s on Caroline Street.
Gaffney’s currently requires their doormen to be dressed in a buttoned down white shirt bearing their logo. Baker says to comply with the new rule, he’s ordered nametags that will identify the person working at the door right away, and hopes it will be sufficient.
The last call change ran into a considerable roadblock this week, as the SLA informed the city that a change in Saratoga Springs’ last call hour would mean all of Saratoga County would also be required to adhere to the change. His enthusiasm involved with changing the last call hour was based on a legal opinion obtained before he was elected.
“In 2010 there was a legal opinion issued by the county attorney for Commissioner [John] Franck when he brought up the idea of changing the last call hour, and that opinion was to the effect that there wasn’t anything in the alcoholic beverage control (ABC) law that would preclude a municipality from having a different last call hour than the surrounding county,” said Mathiesen. “A lot of what I was planning for last call was based on that decision.”
Mathiesen contacted the SLA earlier this year when he took office and inquired about that 2010 opinion. He says he was told there was nothing in the ABC law that would prevent them from having a different last call than the county. After Mathiesen sought a more formal statement regarding the decision, he received a phone call April 5 from the SLA stating that it was not appropriate for there to be a different last call for the municipality. Mathiesen is still considering his next move, but he has not ruled out approaching county officials regarding the change.
“I don’t think there’s an awful lot of revenue generated between three and four at night and I think the case in Saratoga Springs is that most establishments aren’t even open then. It would be a big help to our city, a big help in dealing with this problem, and may actually help the rest of the county too,” said Mathiesen.
Commissioner Mathiesen has put bar owners in the tough position of having to defend their right to make money during the late night hours, while maintaining that they are doing all they can to make sure their customers are not being over served. Mathiesen met with bar owners, officials from the State Liquor Authority and members of the city’s police force in early March to discuss what responsibilities are expected of bars and clubs in Saratoga Springs. That meeting led to the legislation requiring bouncers to be licensed, and bartenders making sure not to over serve alcohol to their patrons.
“The commissioner has brought a lot of attention to over-serving, getting doormen certified, and using the TIPS program, but it’s not a perfect situation. Unfortunately, you can do everything in the world and something bad can happen,” said Baker.
The topic has drawn considerable resistance from bar owners and business associations alike, with no better example than during the workshop held March 27 called “Nightlife in Saratoga Springs - Is it safe?” Mathiesen publically referred to the atmosphere of the bar scene as “dangerous,” much to the chagrin of the overwhelming majority of bar owners and business people in attendance.
Representatives from the Saratoga Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Business Association, and Convention and Tourism Bureau asked Mathiesen to address his comments during a recent city council meeting, saying that the negativity is undermining their efforts to promote the city as a safe place to visit.
“I think all the bars and restaurants have banded together to try and keep Saratoga safe,” says Baker. “But I don’t think changing closing hour is going to make a difference, and that it would be a deterrent to our tourism and the atmosphere here in the city.”