Savannah may tighten St. Patrick's Day rules

Savannah hosts one of the nation's most celebrated St. Patrick's Day events

SAVANNAH, Ga. -- Savannah officials and business owners are getting ready for the city's annual green deluge.

The rules of St. Patrick's Day were the focus of a meeting aimed at preparing everyone for the festivities.

Most of the questions Thursday were focused on alcohol: Where it can be served, who can pour it and how to balance profits with public safety.

"We don't want to be on the front page of the national news with some tragedy that happens here in Savannah," Acting Assistant City Manager Marty Johnston told business owners. "We want it to be a great event and for all of y'all to make a bunch of money."

But new regulations - including the city's smoking ban and a requirement that anyone serving alcohol carry a "bar card" - are making that harder, bar and restaurant owners say.

"They're all good ideas on their own," said Stu Putman, owner of Rooftop Tavern. "But they have a cumulative effect which gets to be a little overwhelming."

Judee Jones - supervisor of Savannah's city marshals, who enforce ordinances - warned that marshals will be making the rounds at bars and restaurants to make sure servers and bartenders have their city-issued bar card.

This is the first St. Patrick's Day that the cards, which certify that people selling alcohol have gone through training to prevent underage drinking, have been required. Several business owners wanted to know whether temporary staff hired for the holiday have to go through the $20 training and pay $25 to get a bar card. They do.

Daniel Cloutier, owner of Molly MacPherson's Scottish Pub and Grill, said paying $45 for each temporary hire is too much to ask of a small business.

"It's always one thing after another," Cloutier said of the regulation.

But Johnston said the regulation protects the bar owners by stripping bartenders and servers of their card - thereby taking away their right to sell alcohol in Savannah bars - if they are caught serving a minor. That way, a proprietor doesn't unwittingly hire someone who has served alcohol to a minor in another establishment.

 

Other regulations

Restaurants are exempt from the bar card law so long as several conditions are met. More than half of the restaurant's revenue has to come from food, and there can't be more patrons than would be "normal for restaurant operations" in an establishment at any given time.

But if a proprietor plans to move out tables and bring in extra customers during St. Patrick's Day celebrations, bar cards will be required for employees serving alcohol and the restaurateur must apply for a permit to operate as a "hybrid restaurant," Savannah's revenue director, Tom Vanderhorst said.

The permit, which costs $250, allows restaurants to stay open until 2:55 a.m. instead of closing at midnight.

Selling alcohol on the sidewalk, through windows, or through a doorway will be prohibited.

Johnston also warned business owners that state law prohibiting serving visibly drunk patrons will be enforced. On New Year's Eve, city officials saw several drunk patrons continue to belly up to the bar, she said.

"There were so many people being served that were really and truly beyond intoxicated, passing out in bars," Johnston said.

Proprietors also will be responsible for ensuring that tourists know about Savannah's new smoking ban.

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