Legal drinkers to be separated from minors in bars, clubs
Arizona liquor officials Wednesday mandated that small bars and nightclubs construct physical barriers to separate people of legal drinking age from underage customers.
Howard Adams, director of the Arizona Liquor License and Control department, ordered venues accommodating less than 1,000 people to stem the passage of alcohol into minors' hands.
Issuing 21-and-over customers wristbands and hand stamps wasn't cutting it, said Myron Musfeldt, chief of investigation in Adams' department.
"There seemed to be increasing problems that needed to be addressed in these all-ages venues," Musfeldt said yesterday from his Phoenix office. "It seemed to be eroding and uncontrollable. It had gotten to the point that it was introducing young people to a club atmosphere and it was not good public policy."
The barriers must prevent underage individuals from moving out of their designated areas and stop alcohol from being passed into the minors' section, he said.
The new rule, which has approval from the Arizona Legislature, "just made good sense," Musfeldt said.
But Kent Van Stelle, owner of The Rock, a local bar and nightclub, said the decision is discriminatory and unfair to smaller venues. The bar, 136 N. Park Ave., can legally hold a maximum of 658 people.
"Because we don't have a 1,000 occupancy, we have different rules," he said. "That's the biggest bother to me. It's just a fairness issue."
Instead of buying barriers to separate its customers, The Rock will instead cancel all-ages shows and halt plans for 18-and-over Thursday night events, Van Stelle said.
"I'll have to rely on the 21-year olds to come out," Van Stelle said yesterday. "To me, that's where I'm getting screwed."
Other Tucson bar owners said they are either unaffected by the rule or already have barriers in place.
Rialto Theatre owner Paul Bear said his establishment is unaffected by the rule because it can hold 1,200 people.
The Rialto, 318 E. Congress St., puts wristbands and hand stamps on drinking customers and occasionally makes special arrangements, Bear said.
"It depends on the show," he said. "We adjust it depending on the chances of kiddies sneaking drinks or not."
Kiri Gragg, manager of The New West and Gotham, 4385 W. Ina Road, said she uses a "beer garden" exclusively for people 21-and-older. Gotham, which has an occupancy limit of 749, will police the garden to ensure alcohol is not passed to minors, she added.
"We can still do all-ages," Gragg said. "It's something we've already done in the past and something we're prepared for. It would be nice to have everyone mingling but the law says 'no.'"
Mingling is the main problem because it allows drinkers to buy alcoholic beverages for their underage friends, said Duane Smith, southern Arizona's liquor license manager.
"It's going to be a barrier that will prevent the alcohol from being passed," he said, adding that the city government can choose to completely ban minors from the small establishments.
Carrie Stone, a UA animal science and pre-health professions freshman, said the new rule "sucks."
"You can't socialize and meet other people," said Stone, 18. "You're stuck in your same age group."
People are going to consume alcohol despite Arizona's new rules, she said.
"The only way is if they shut it down completely to people under 21," Stone said.
David J. Cieslak can be reached via e-mail at David.J.Cieslak@wildcat.arizona.edu.