You may have heard the hullabaloo last Tuesday when an agent from the State of Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco Bureau of Law Enforcement (phew, what a mouthful) popped in for a surprise inspection at nine Sarasota bars. Then again, you may not have heard anything at all, since most of the commotion sparked by the agent’s visit seemed to die down relatively quickly.
Of the nine establishments inspected, Growler’s Pub on North Tamiami Trail was one of those slapped with an official notice stating that it is in violation of Sarasota County Ordinance, Article IV SEC.6-127, which states that the “presence of persons under the age of twenty-one in alcoholic beverage establishments unless that person is accompanied by a parent or legal guardian” is prohibited.
The ordinance officially went into effect in 2007 when Sarasota followed suit with other Florida counties such as Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach in banning minors from bars. However, many local bar proprietors, including Growler’s owner Sherry Kolyno, were unaware of the ordinance until Tuesday, as it has not been enforced with any consistency since it was instated nearly five years ago.
According to the ordinance, an establishment must make at least 10 percent of its profits from food sales in order for minors to be permitted on the premises. Kolyno pointed out that establishments such as Applebee’s---a popular local watering hole in its own right---are not affected by the ordinance because their high volume food sales average out the profits.
Feathers were ruffled and hackles were raised on Tuesday in the wake of the inspections, although the majority of the dissent came from the public rather than the bar proprietors themselves. Interestingly enough, the main concern in regards to the ordinance has nothing to do with the actual consumption of alcohol by minors in bars.
Due to its location across the street from Ringling College of Art and Design, Growler’s has always kept its doors open to minors in the past. Kolyno explained that Growler’s value to the under-21 community is that it serves as a venue for the arts and music rather than an establishment where minors can procure alcohol.“The problem [with the ordinance] is that we’re not talking about underage people---we’re talking about 18-year-old adults who know that they aren’t old enough to drink and are responsible enough to follow the rules,” Kolyno explained. “We have never had a problem with minors drinking in our bar because they respect the bar and they respect us, and so they really don’t even try to order drinks.”
Growler’s hosts several events every week including open mic nights, trivia competitions, movie screenings by students from Ringling and performances by local bands---all of which were previously open to all ages, and usually for a small cover charge that made up for the lack of alcohol sales to minors. Kolyno pointed out that prior to the enforcement of the ordinance, Ringling’s photography and film students often took advantage of the bar’s setting to shoot assignments for their classes.
The ordinance leaves Growler’s with two options: Avoid selling alcohol altogether during the concerts, film screenings and other community events, or ban everyone under the age of 21 from entering the bar.
“I think that this ordinance hurts us more than most bars because of the kind of place we are,” said Kolyno. “I feel really terrible that now we have to turn away so many of the people who came to rely on us as a venue. In the long run, I know they’ll find their way to a different venue---but I’m disappointed that it can no longer be this one.”
The public’s main concern with the ordinance appears to be the question of where the kids will go and what they will do, now that they are banned from spending their weekend nights at the supervised venues where their favorite bands are performing.
“So does this mean it’s the return of the ‘Almighty House Party?’” asked Sarasota Music Scene’s Claire Franklin. “Does the commission really think the 18 to 20 [crowd] will just stay home and play Scrabble now? They’ve just pushed the underage partying underground and without supervision.”
“[The Sarasota County commissioners] think they are protecting underage kids from alcohol, but little do they know it will only fuel a fire,” one minor, who asked that her identity remain anonymous, wrote in an email statement to This Week In Sarasota on Tuesday.
Her suggestion was that instead of preventing minors from entering drinking establishments altogether, stricter door policies should be put in place and better enforced where necessary.
“At Growler's, The Blue Owl and Cock & Bull I have often worn the black permanent marker ‘X’ on my hands and paid a little more of a fee [because I’m underage]. Although it makes me stick out like a sore thumb, it does its job and it's far better than looking through the window of the bar to watch my friends’ bands just because I’m not old enough to be inside,” she said.
Local photographer and fellow TWIS contributor Scott Braun also weighed in on the issue on Tuesday.
“I agree that they should be enforcing this and, to be honest, I’m surprised that it’s been around for so long without being enforced---it’s a good thing to protect everyone. It is unfortunate for those underage that they’re going to have to find new places to be entertained, but the consequences for serving someone underage in the state of Florida are huge,” he said. “What we need is a venue that is all ages---not just all these bars---so that everyone can enjoy it.”
Despite their supporters’ flurry of dissent in the wake of Tuesday’s inspections, Growler’s has taken the notice in stride and has chosen to play by the rules---and encourages other popular local venues such as Cock & Bull and The Blue Owl to mind their P’s and Q’s as well.
“I’d love to fight it, but I’m just not that person,” said Kolyno. “I’m just going to put up my signs and card everyone who comes in. In the process I know I’m going to have to turn away some really good people, and that’s just sad---but it’s what I have to do ... They have warned us in writing and we’re not going to risk any trouble.”