Editorial: Let the bars stay open late
Last week, by an overwhelming margin, the New Hampshire House voted to allow restaurants and bars to push back last call from 1 a. m. until 2 a.m. The change would align the state’s hours with those in Massachusetts, cut down on cross-border bar-hopping, benefit bars, clubs and restaurants with a late-night clientele and increase rooms and meals and business profits tax revenue. Passage would be a plus for a tourist state that strives to attract overnight visitors and vacationers.
The Senate should pass House Bill 175 and send it on to the governor, but not without first stripping it of two amendments that will create confusion and increase travel by people who have been out for a night on the town.
The first amendment would leave the decision about letting bars serve for an extra hour up to individual communities. That would create a patchwork system that would make it difficult, particularly for visitors, to know where establishments were open and where they were not. And if, for example, bars closed at 1 a.m. in Concord but were open for another hour in Manchester, some people would drive to enjoy the extra hour to socialize. Uniform hours statewide would be preferable.
A second amendment would force bars to close at 1 a.m. for three years if they violated the law by serving someone underage or obviously intoxicated. This, too, would create confusion. Law enforcement would have to keep track of who was allowed to be open past 1 and who wasn’t. And penalties for violating liquor laws are severe enough that the added penalty would have little preventive effect.
How much the extra hour to imbibe will add to law enforcement costs is debatable. The worst problems created by overindulgence, particularly on the part of youth, don’t occur in licensed establishments but in dormitories, fraternity houses and private parties.
The change also recognizes that not everyone works a 9-5 job. People who get off work at 11 p.m. or midnight would appreciate the extra hour to relax with friends before calling it a day. Forty-seven states allow restaurants and bars to stay open until at least 2 a.m. New Hampshire should make it 48.