Bad behavior at the bars
On the heels of a few weeks of a chaotic summer with much partying, incidents of underage drinking and open container violations, the police conducted an undercover “compliance check” of alcohol service protocols at several Block Island bars.
On Saturday, July 16, six out of seven “randomly” chosen bars flunked.
The set-up, according to the report provided by Interim Police Chief Peter Chabot to the Town Council, technically an employee of the R.I. State Police, was to send an 18-year-old underage male into the chosen establishment to see if they could purchase alcohol without proper identification. They were to approach the bar and ask for an alcoholic drink. If the bartender “asked for identification or proof of age, he was to inform the bartender he did not have one. If such bartender refused to serve Source One the alcoholic drink, he was instructed to politely say thank you and exit the establishment.” If he was served a drink, he was “to pay for the beverage, walk away from the bar and provide me proof of the purchase. Once proof was obtained, Source One was required to discard the alcoholic beverage in the nearest trash receptacle, exit the establishment, and at no time consume the alcoholic beverage.”
Of the seven establishments visited on July 16, only the Harborside refused to serve Source One. Ballard’s, the National, the Block Island Beach House (Surf), Beachead, Champlin’s and the Oar all served Source One an alcoholic beverage with no identification or proof of age.
On Sunday July 17, the exercise was repeated with Source Two, a 19-year-old male. Six establishments were again, randomly chosen. This time Ballard’s and the Oar served the young man with no identification or proof of age, but the Harborside, the National, Mahogany Shoals, and Champlin’s all refused to serve Source Two a drink.
According to Chabot, each of the establishments was handed a copy of the report, and the matter was up for discussion at the Town Council’s meeting on Wednesday, July 20.
Town Manager Maryanne Crawford, introducing agenda item 11, said: “We’ve been seeing a different atmosphere that we as a community are not pleased with.” She stressed that this was a “just a compliance check” and that more would be held as the summer goes on. “The intent was more educational.”
Another problem Crawford has observed is open container violations, and as one who likes to walk, she has observed numerous instances of drinking in public. She said the police are giving out citations for open container violations and that she has reached out to the ferry companies to request that they add onto their loudspeaker announcement before passengers disembark that open containers are not allowed on Block Island. She is also ordering signs
to inform visitors of the ordinance.
When the town’s new solicitor, James Callaghan, got up to speak on the matter, he too stressed that the weekend checks of bars were compliance checks only, but that they could rise to the level of violation checks, “which could eventually result in a show cause hearing or criminal violation for the person who serves the drinks.”
Councilor Keith Stover suggested convening a meeting with the liquor license holders, the police chief, representatives from the ferries and the rescue squad to “have a conversation about what we can do as a town...to turn the temperature down.”
There was a long-ranging discussion about whether the island had enough resources vis a vis police presence, but general agreement to get everyone in the room for a meeting to discuss what can be done about better managing the situation.
“There are a million solutions,” said Second Warden Sven Risom. He said that serving alcohol and making sure patrons did not leave with a drink in hand could be different for different types of establishments. But, he also said that the establishments’ management needed to know “game’s on.”
Councilor Martha Ball said: “No one wants to be on this list. It’s pretty obvious we’ve got some advertising issues. Honest to God, I don’t see how anyone thinks they have to advertise liquor to come to Block Island.” Regarding advertisements that appear on local television, she added, “I’m baffled by them.”
Ball also acknowledged that one of the problems was “spillover
First Warden André Boudreau said: “Block Island’s always been a party place, but let’s face it, it’s busier. It’s a lot busier than it ever has been. It’s out of control. The advertising. I think the advertising is a huge issue. As Martha said, advertising close-ups of cocktails – I don’t think they need to do that.”
Boudreau referred often to “the social contract,” saying “some people just don’t want to play. They’re going to continue their thing.” He clarified that he didn’t want the island to be a police state although he hoped that at budget time “we remember this conversation.”
“There is a level of incivility out there,” said Ball, adding that it wasn’t just the liquor, or just the advertising, but “at some point, people have to take responsibility and behave.”
The meeting with stakeholders is scheduled for Monday, July 25 at 3 p.m. Ball stressed that she wanted it to be about the businesses’ ideas on how to improve. “I don’t want them to just listen to us.”
Earlier in the evening, the council entertained a request for a class F liquor license for an event that was requested by Two Roads Brewery to serve beer at the Block Island Club after a 5K run along the beach. The event is a fundraiser for the club, and this is the third year it would have been held. The race is scheduled for the morning.
Stover said “It pains me to say this, especially as a member of the Block Island Club, but with what we’re seeing in town, the idea of having an additional server of beer at 10:30 in the morning ...I just don’t feel comfortable voting for this.”
“I think at 10 in the morning, it’s ludicrous,” said Ball.
The council denied the application.