In a move designed to stem the spread of COVID-19, Charlotte and surrounding towns will soon ban alcohol sales after 10 p.m., Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio told city and county officials in an email Wednesday morning.
The measure will ban alcohol sales after 10 p.m. in Charlotte, Davidson, Matthews, Mint Hill and unincorporated parts of Mecklenburg County. Cornelius, Huntersville and Pineville have declined to sign on for now.
It’s not yet clear how the new restriction will be enforced.
“We are currently drafting the language that will be signed by the … the respective mayors,” Diorio reportedly wrote in the email to elected officials and other officials.
The ban’s start date has not been set yet, but it will likely last for the duration of Phase 2 of Gov. Roy Cooper’s plan to gradually reopen North Carolina’s economy. On Tuesday, Cooper announced that Phase 2 will extend for at least another three weeks.
Under Phase 2, restaurants, breweries and wineries are permitted to operate at 50% dine-in capacity, as long as customers maintain a 6-foot distance from their neighbors. Staff and customers are also expected to follow the state’s face-mask mandate.
City and county officials grew concerned when video surfaced of establishments skirting the restrictions put in place to assure public safety. After footage of tightly packed, unmasked crowds at local restaurants and bars circulated last weekend, Mayor Vi Lyles told Charlotte City Council members Monday she would support a ban on late-night alcohol sales.
Nearby cities and towns ban late-night alcohol sales
On a visit to Charlotte on Monday, Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, strongly advocated for closing bars.
“It’s critical that we recognize certain businesses that tend to facilitate irresponsible behavior,” Redfield told reporters.
On Tuesday, Diorio weighed in on images of crowded drinking establishments like Explict in the AvidXchange Music Factory.
“That is one of the topics that has come up in recent days is whether or not we should take a look at how alcohol sales are done later at night to try to target some of the demographics that we know are not always compliant,” Diorio told WCNC.
At a press conference with Redfield on Tuesday, Diorio stated officials were studying Orange County, which recently did make a similar order, but wasn’t ready to make a suggestion yet.
“We will continue to talk about it over the next couple of days,” she said.
South Carolina issued a “Last Call” order that bans alcohol sales after 11 p.m., which took effect last Saturday.
Business owners react to proposed ban
A clear majority, around 44%, of positive COVID-19 cases in Mecklenburg County occur in the 20- to 39-year-old demographic, according to the latest data from the county.
Although city and county officials apparently felt barring alcohol sales after 10 p.m. will reduce late-night crowds of this demographic, and thereby decrease the spread COVID-19, Matt Wohlfarth is not convinced their solution will work.
“All you’re going to do is force [people] to start drinking earlier, so we’ll have twice as many people in the bar from 5 to 10,” Wohlfarth, the owner of Dilworth Neighborhood Grille, told WCNC. “That’s not a solution. A solution is to go after people who have repeated violations.”
One such alleged repeat offender was highlighted Wednesday by Jackie DeLoach, owner of Hattie’s Tap and Tavern in NoDa. She posted an Instagram flyer advertising a party scheduled for Thursday night at the Peculiar Rabbit in Plaza Midwood. The “18 and up” event, scheduled from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., advertised DJs and beer pong tables.
“Are you kidding me?” DeLoach posted. “They are just going to ignore everything going on and throw this?? 10pm-2am they aren’t going to serve food. 18+…beer pong…DJ who? They are throwing a damn club night.”
A series of Latin Saturdays events held by Conciertos Latinos USA has advertised the Peculiar Rabbit as “The All New Mansion Nightclub Featuring 3 Floors Playing the Hottest Latin Hits.” Another party, Colombian Independence Rumba, is scheduled for Saturday night.
A known violator is called out on social media
The advertised host of the party was Red Light Promotions, which appears to be run by event planner, bartender and videographer Sunny Hall. The venue itself is owned by Rob Nixon, who also owns other establishments that serve alcohol such as Jackalope Jack’s and The Rabbit Hole.
In June, Nixon placed a large banner on the side of Peculiar Rabbit that challenged Gov. Cooper’s attempts to curb the spread of COVID-19.
“Thank you Governor Roy Cooper for killing private bars, restaurants, gyms, salons and so many more!” the banner reads. “We will see you at the voting booth! 0% Open= 100% Failure, 100% Open= Maybe surviving the chaos.”
Fellow bar owner DeLoach took him to task in her post.
“Hattie’s has been closed for 119 days because we follow the rules,” she wrote. “This is a true slap in the face to all the bars in Plaza and Noda and the rest of NC that has continued to stayed closed.”
The post drew 73 comments, many of which cited Nixon’s deleterious effect on the neighborhood.
“This business is owned by Rob Nixon, the man who used the word ‘thuggishness’ when speaking to Charlotte Magazine about hip hop and rap communities in Charlotte,” wrote Snug Harbor owner Derek Ghent. Ghent also pointed out that Nixon described rap by saying “Some genres are more conducive to violence.”
Many posters pledged to lodge complaints to the ABC board, maintaining that Peculiar Rabbit was hosting an unsafe and illegal party.
“I work at Soul [Gastrolounge],” wrote Aaron Rogers. “There’s been a full volume party on Jack’s rooftop every weekend for the past month and a half. I leave work around 1-1:30 in the morning and it’s always the loudest thing in the neighborhood.”
“I’ve seen the snaps and Facebook videos,” offered Facebook user Alex Roth. “It’s a straight up night club with like 300 [people] packed together not wearing mask[s].”
Thursday night’s party was canceled. Red Light Promotions stated it was due to speculation over the late-night alcohol ban, others claim it was canceled by Nixon due to the beer-pong tables. Saturday night’s party is still scheduled to occur. As of Thursday night, the banner was gone from the side of Peculiar Rabbit.