Could Later Closing Times Reduce Let-Out Crowds and Help Stop Crime?

Beta is gone, but the let-out crowds are not.
Beta is gone, but the let-out crowds are not. Aaron Thackeray
Early in the morning of July 17, Denver Police officers shot into a crowd of people who'd just left the bars at 20th and Larimer streets, injuring six bystanders. While the investigation into that incident continues, so does discussion of ways to reduce the tensions during let-out, as bars issue their last call before mandatory closing at 2 a.m.

The Denver Police Department made the first move: On July 30, it announced that food trucks would no longer be allowed to operate between 19th and 20th streets on Blake Street, 19th and 21st streets on Market Street, and 20th and 21st streets on Larimer on Friday and Saturday. Police argued that moving the food trucks in that area would deter people from gathering outside during let-out. But others, including Denver City Councilmember Candi CdeBaca, who represents the area, called the idea absurd.

“Apparently, there are move-along laws for trucks now that @DenverPolice think they are in charge of making,” CdeBaca tweeted. “They are not enforcing a valid/real law. Outrageous.”

Chris Fuselier, owner of the Blake Street Tavern at 2301 Blake, isn't sold on the idea of booting the food trucks, either. “Those businesses were incredibly impacted by COVID, and now they have an opportunity to be in business again," he says. "I would think that there are other measures we could do other than to punish those food truck operators.”

Such as extending closing time?

The concept has been around for at least a decade.

In 2014, then-state representative Crisanta Duran, who would later become Speaker of the House, proposed a bill that would extend last call until 4:30 a.m. as a way to end the congestion during let-out that was leading to violent incidents. But after opponents argued that a later last call would just lead to more drinking and more problems, Duran herself asked the House to defeat the bill, since she couldn’t get the votes to pass it.

Later that year, Glendale took advantage of a 2011 state law that allowed municipalities to establish entertainment districts that contain common consumption areas managed by promotional associations. Within those common consumption areas, local governments can give businesses the option to sell alcohol later, and Glendale chose to do so. As a result, the separate bar attached to Shotgun Willie’s strip club can serve alcohol until 4 a.m.

Casinos in Blackhawk and Cripple Creek also moved to create common consumption areas where alcohol can be served 24 hours a day.

In 2017, a bill sponsored by ​​state representatives Steve Lebsock and Dan Thurlow and Senator Vicki Marble proposed giving local governments the choice to change alcohol service hours in their jurisdiction, even without creating a common consumption area. The bill passed the House but ended up stalling in the Senate. Again, opponents argued that the proposal might create more problems as people who'd been drinking left towns with 2 a.m. closing times for those that allowed bars to stay open later.

In the 2022 legislative session, Representative Marc Snyder introduced a proposal titled Alcohol Beverages Extended Service Hours Permit that would have allowed bars to apply for a permit enabling them to extend their hours of alcohol service until 4 a.m.

“Nobody was required to do anything,” Snyder says, ”but it was going to be an enabling statute, so if businesses wanted to give this a try and take advantage of extended hours, they would have that ability.”

The idea came from the Colorado Department of Revenue, he says, and was driven by Governor Jared Polis, who'd met with bar and restaurant owners to discuss ways to help them recover from the pandemic, when service and hours were limited. Polis had directed the revenue department to look into the idea.

“The governor believes that allowing cities to extend service hours could help to spread out when customers are leaving — which in turn could help prevent crime and reduce drunk driving, while also supporting our economy and culture,” explains Conor Cahill, Polis’s press secretary.

Snyder’s bill would also have allowed bars to apply to serve alcohol earlier, at 5 a.m. rather than 7 a.m., which is currently the law, in order to accommodate the growing number of people who watch Premier League Soccer, with games in Europe often airing at 6 a.m. here. Under his proposal, bars would have had to choose between staying open later or opening earlier; they couldn’t do both.

His bill quickly faced strong opposition, particularly from Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Opponents questioned whether allowing people to drink right before school drop-off times was a pertinent safety choice. And although Snyder says he worked well with MADD, they couldn't come to a compromise.

Snyder, who's from El Paso County, lives downtown during the legislative session. He says he's observed the problems at let-out, and thinks people are much more aware of the hazards of driving while intoxicated than they used to be.

“Staggering last call would be a decision for the city and affected businesses to make,” says a Denver Police spokesperson. “As previously stated, DPD’s primary focus is everyone’s safety, and we will continue to work with our partners to increase safety and mitigate violence.”

According to Fuselier, the Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce has floated the idea of having bars agree to different closing times on a rotating basis, but bar owners he's spoken with worry that the lack of consistency would be too difficult on bar employees, owners and patrons.

But the idea of a later, and standard, closing time is appealing to many owners, he adds.

"There's a real misconception that people think that guests are gonna just party up until 4 a.m.," Fusilier says. "People would naturally filter out.”

Ultimately, Snyder decided to stop pushing his bill while it was still in committee; he'd heard enough from people on both sides of the aisle to recognize that the logistics weren’t feasible.

“It just was one of those things...that happen so often, that was a lot more complicated than it looks at first glance,” he says.
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Catie Cheshire is a staff writer at Westword. After getting her undergraduate degree at Regis University, she went to Arizona State University for a master's degree. She missed everything about Denver -- from the less-intense sun to the food, the scenery and even the bus system. Now she's reunited with Denver and writing news for Westword.
Contact: Catie Cheshire