Government

Should minors be allowed in Marion bars during the day?

Bar owners, city officials discuss possibility

Customers in April gather around the bar in April at the Brick Alley Pub and Sports Bar in Marion. The bar’s owner is asking the Marion City Council about possibly changing city code, so he could open the bar to minors, during the day, who may want to attend a celebration there for a family member’s birthday, retirement or graduation. Marion city code currently prohibits anyone under age 21 from entering a bar. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Customers in April gather around the bar in April at the Brick Alley Pub and Sports Bar in Marion. The bar’s owner is asking the Marion City Council about possibly changing city code, so he could open the bar to minors, during the day, who may want to attend a celebration there for a family member’s birthday, retirement or graduation. Marion city code currently prohibits anyone under age 21 from entering a bar. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

MARION — Marion is thinking about a change in city code that would allow youth under age 21 to enter bars — during daylight hours.

Les Arnold, owner of the Brick Alley Pub & Sports Bar, 1037 Seventh Ave., started the discussion by asking the city if he could rent space in his bar for events such as birthday, retirement or graduation parties — events that families would want to bring their children to.

His bar, he said, has two rooms that seat between 40 and 60 people each.

“What started it was I have a senior this year, and I wanted to have his graduation party at the bar on a Sunday,” Arnold said. “We didn’t want to just do it without seeing if the law would allow it.”

The idea, too, he thought, might be a way to bring in additional revenue.

Arnold said he’s had to turn away group gatherings when it meant a grandchild couldn’t come to a grandparent’s retirement party.

The pub also has regular Hawkeye game watch parties, and parents would like to bring their teens in to watch the games.

“It turns a family event into exclusion,” Arnold said.

Police Chief Joe McHale helped set up two public input sessions to see what the public thought of the idea. .

Marion’s current city code says no one under the legal drinking age can be in a bar, defined as a business with a liquor license that makes more than 50 percent of its revenue from alcohol sales.

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In Iowa City, people under age 21 can be in bars until 10 p.m. Cedar Rapids allows minors in bars until 7 p.m.

Tom Daubs, the school resource officer for Marion and Linn-Mar schools, said at Tuesday afternoon’s public input session he’s concerned that allowing kids and teens into bars might unnecessarily promote underage drinking.

“Anytime a juvenile is exposed to something they might see as appealing, then you run the risk of them going down that path,” said Daubs, who teaches the Drug Abuse Resistance Education — or DARE — program to elementary and middle-school students.

“Anything I can do to keep them and their little minds and their little eyes away from what adults might do or say in a drinking establishment, I’m going to do because I don’t want them to see this as ‘I want to do this right now,’ ” he said.

Council member Will Brandt said he’d want to stipulate any change in the local ordinance require that underage people be accompanied by an adult.

Cody Crawford, prevention specialist at the Area Substance Abuse Council, suggested two kinds of wristbands for those who are over the legal drinking age and those who aren’t.

Arnold agreed.

“Our whole intent isn’t to allow kids sitting at the bar,” he said. “If it’s allowed, we’d take special precautions. We need to be carding people anyway and wouldn’t have a problem because we’re pretty diligent about doing that.”

Like Arnold, Paul Matthews, co-owner of Uptown Snug in Marion, said he could see a change in the ordinance as a possible business venture.

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However, Matthews said, underage individuals would only be allowed in his bar if a group hosting a gathering gave notice that minors would be attending.

“I don’t want kids under 21 in there every day,” Matthews said. “We have a lot of adults that don’t want kids around at the bar.”

Brandt and council member Paul Draper noted that only a few people have offered opinions at the two public input sessions on the question.

If the City Council considers a change to the liquor ordinance, three public hearings would be held during council meetings.

l Comments: (319) 368-8516; makayla.tendall@thegazette.com

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