As the state loosens restrictions on the bar-and-grill industry, Laramie maintains the status quo of leading the way in regulations, Snowy Range Sports Bar & Grill owner Karl McCracken said.
A recent liquor ordinance amendment approved May 16 by the Laramie City Council could preclude minors from entering an alcohol-serving establishment that earns 51 percent of its annual revenue from alcohol sales despite Wyoming Legislature passing a bill this spring removing age restrictions on bars.
“It bothers me that Laramie always has to be on the front end of regulations,” McCracken said.
“It’s very disappointing.”
Previously, the council proposed an exception that would allow an alcohol-serving establishment with a commercial kitchen and earning 40 percent of its annual revenue from food sales to allow minors in the establishment until 8 p.m. But after the council struggled to provide the Laramie Police Department with an enforceable definition of commercial kitchen, it decided to simply remove the exception.
“We don’t want to allow minors in during the night when we’re a bar, but during the day, we’re a restaurant,” McCracken said. “With the food we sell during the day, we’re still selling about 60 percent alcohol.”
The exception was presented to the council as part of an effort to align the city’s municipal code with Wyoming’s new liquor laws, which take effect in July. While the amendment was approved May 16, it was part of the second reading of the ordinance as whole; therefore, the ordinance could change again during the third reading of the ordinance, scheduled for June 6.
While the state’s changes to liquor laws could boost economic development by providing more bar-and-grill licenses, relaxing the design requirements for old and new establishments and providing bar owners the opportunity to diversify their business model with food sales, McCracken said the council’s response might do the opposite.
“If they do what they’re proposing to do, it would hurt some current businesses,” he said. “It wouldn’t boost economic development. It would almost make it revenue neutral.”
In a city where the residents consistently vote alcohol-serving establishments as their Locals Choice for places to eat, McCracken said opening avenues for bar owners to attract family business was important to building the economy.
“When you’re bringing in minors, it’s about the food sales,” he said. “I’m trying to increase food sales, not alcohol sales.”
However, not everyone was opposed to the amendment.
Although bowling alleys and restaurants are exempt from the proposed liquor ordinance changes, Laramie Lanes owner Shell Burns said he’s on the fence about how the council is approaching the new liquor laws.
“Having minors in the bar — I’m not OK with that,” Burns said. “A place that sells 100 percent alcohol shouldn’t have minors in it. But when it’s 49-percent-food sales (and) 51-percent-alcohol sales, that’s different. I’m undecided about (the ordinance amendment).”
Crowbar & Grill owner Andy Glines said he wasn’t sure the amendment would affect most current businesses or hamper future business development.
Glines’ establishment was originally conceived as a bar serving better-than-average bar food, but even in the first year, he said 55 percent of his revenue was derived from food sales.
“If this ordinance would’ve been in place when we started, I would’ve still continued with this idea,” Glines said.