SARATOGA SPRINGS — In the aftermath of a 3 a.m. shooting on Nov. 20 during which three people were injured in the Saratoga Springs’ downtown bar district, some city officials have identified altering bar closing times as a preventative measure that would assist the public’s safety.
Doing so, however, will not be an easy task.
Currently, bars in approximately two dozen of the state’s 62 counties may stay open until 4 a.m. – Saratoga County among them. Altering the closing time – city officials appear to favor a 2 a.m. closing – would require the county Board of Supervisors give their approval of an earlier closing to be implemented countywide, and to forward that request to the State Liquor Authority to ultimately rule on the matter.
Previous councils in Saratoga Springs have initiated that process three different times in recent years, with the county board either refusing to agree, or turning a deaf ear to those requests.
“When it comes to the issue of bar closing times in our city, there has been a long-standing debate about what we should do,” Matt Veitch told the City Council during its Dec. 6 meeting. It was a meeting during which the council voted down a proposed amendment that threatened to revoke the permits of bars and cabarets should their patrons become engaged in any criminal offense after 2 a.m.
Veitch serves on the 23-member Saratoga County Board of Supervisors and is specifically one of two supervisors elected to represent the city of Saratoga Springs, which in county weighted-vote terms indicates the representation of just over 14,000 residents.
“I don’t see the county (Board of Supervisors) going for a 2 a.m. bar closing county-wide,” Veitch said. “I do see them supporting the city and looking to change that on their own.”
Veitch added that during the city’s most recent attempt to alter closing times, made last year, the county’s legislative committee “rather than forwarding the request to the State Liquor Authority to change the bar closing times or to stop the item, moved an item on the county’s legislative agenda urging the state to allow for more local control of this issue. Rather than having this done on a countywide basis, basically change the state laws to allow the Liquor Authority to accept changes of bar closing times from any county, town, city or village that requests it.”
Veitch likened it to the state’s recent cannabis legislation which allows individual municipalities to opt-in or out, and more akin to the Municipal Home Rule Law – which would allow local governments to set the parameters for their own respective municipalities.
“Give localities the power to make their own decisions. This is how bar closing times were handled in the state until about the 1990s,” he said. “I will admit it is a long-term process and one that probably is a longshot in succeeding, but it is one I know the county is willing and work to support the city on.”
The majority of the state’s 62 counties have earlier than 4 a.m. closing times, “so, counties have acted,” Saratoga Springs Mayor Ron Kim said.
In late September 2013, bars in Warren County went to an earlier closing time, from 4 a.m. to 3 a.m., after state regulators unanimously approved a proposal submitted by Warren County’s board of supervisors. Then-Glens Falls Mayor Jack Diamond made the initial call for action after a series of violent, late-night incidents in the city’s South Street district, an area with a handful of bars and nightclubs, as reported by Lucas Willard of WAMC. Diamond had originally proposed a closing time of 2 a.m. to County government, but that proposal was met with opposition.
Among the state’s counties more highly populated that Saratoga, Monroe County - population 750,000, and Onondaga County - 470,000, both have 2 a.m. weekday closing times. Many other counties have set their respective earlier closing times at 1, or 2, or 3 a.m.
“We are the largest city in this county, we pay a ton of taxes that support the county, and yet they’ve punted on this issue,” Mayor Kim said, expressing frustration that the county board’s lack of agreement to a countywide 2 a.m. closing would push the city down a more difficult path in pursuit of its goal. “Changing at the county level would be much easier than going to (the state) Albany and trying to change it, because then we have to deal with Manhattan, we have to deal with all sorts of larger cities. And that’s essentially what the county is saying: We’ll help you get down to Albany. Well, I know how to get to Albany. The problem is it’s very unlikely we’re going to get Albany to listen to us.”
Legislative bodies aside, the desire of an earlier closing also faces resistance from some downtown operators. Kelsey McPartland, owner of Lucy’s Bar on Caroline Street, said a closing modification that would require a “last call” at 2 a.m. would result in a net loss of $24,000, while a 1:15 last call requiring the premises be vacant by 2 a.m. would result in a loss of more than $40,000.
Saratoga Springs City Police Chief Shane Crooks forwarded a letter to the council which explained his preference of an earlier closing time and reported on 2021 data collected by the police department that shows the necessary use of force - either in the making arrests or in separating of combatants – peak at the hour between 2 am and 3 am in Saratoga Springs.
“Between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. is the peak for calls for service and use of force,” added city Public Safety Commissioner Jim Montagnino. “It’s been years, if not decades of inaction, and we’ve reached a point where we had a shoot-out on Broadway and we still have not taken any concrete step to try and change the situation.”
Mayor Kim said while discussions were routinely held regarding downtown safety during his previous tenure as city Public Safety Commissioner from 2005-2009, he didn’t recall discussions that informed about people who were armed with guns. “So, something has changed fundamentally down there. If we take no action, we will be blamed for that failure,” Kim said. “We need to do something, and I believe that if the City Council doesn’t, we will be held responsible down the road.”
Council members agreed they will continue to seek methods to alter the city’s 4 a.m. bar closing time to address late night/ early morning public safety concerns, particularly during weekends. City officials expressed the desire to approach the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors with their request. The county board holds its final meeting of the calendar year at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 20 at the county complex in Ballston Spa. The last regularly scheduled City Council meeting of the year will be held at 7 later that same evening, at City Hall in Saratoga Springs.
New York State Restaurants, Bars and Taverns
Alcohol may be sold for on-premises consumption up to (typically excludes Sundays and some holidays).
1 a.m.: Broome (Saturdays: 3 a.m.), Chemung, Chenango (Saturdays: 3 a.m.), Ontario (Saturdays: 2 a.m.), Otsego (Saturdays: 2 a.m.), Schuyler, Seneca (Fridays, Saturdays: 2 a.m.), Steuben, Tioga (Saturdays: 2 a.m.), Tompkins, Yates.
2 a.m.: Allegany, Cattaraugus, Cayuga, Chautauqua, Clinton, Cortland, Genesee, Hamilton, Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Livingston, Madison, Monroe, Niagara (Fridays, Saturdays: 3 a.m.), Oneida, Onondaga, Orleans, Oswego, St. Lawrence, Wayne, Wyoming (Mondays: 1 a.m.)
3 a.m.: Delaware, Essex, Franklin, Putnam, Warren.
4 a.m.: Albany, Bronx, Columbia (Saturdays: 3 a.m.), Dutchess, Erie, Fulton, Greene, Kings (Brooklyn), Montgomery, Nassau, New York (Manhattan), Orange, Queens, Rensselaer, Richmond, Rockland, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Suffolk, Sullivan, Ulster, Washington, Westchester.
(Source: most recent data available NYS Liquor Authority).