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Dry days ahead for downtown?

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | APRIL 02, 2009 7:30 AM

A bar without alcohol may sound like an oxymoron, but if UI officials and community leaders have their way, dry bars may become a reality. In an attempt to curb binge drinking among college students, UI leaders are brainstorming ways to get students out of the bars, and the alcohol summit marks the beginning of the brainstorming process. Encouraging bars to host alcohol-free event nights is just one of these ideas.

Binge drinking is a very real problem in Iowa City. Go downtown on any given Friday or Saturday night and the scene is the same: drunken students stumbling down streets and alleyways, spewing the recycled liquid remains of what was once a night of fun on sidewalks and in storm drains. And the recent string of fights occurring around the Ped Mall among drunken bar patrons only accelerates the idea that binge drinking is a problem desperately in need of a solution.

But alcohol-free bars? This may seem like the most obvious solution. Because the problem is alcohol, why not eliminate it all together, right?

Selling alcohol is a bar’s livelihood. Forcing bars to host alcohol-free nights in an attempt to reduce binge drinking is as ridiculous as requiring restaurants to sponsor food-free nights to help curb obesity. These bars open their doors every night to make a profit, and alcohol-free events would only hinder the businesses in making money. Sure, some bars do sell food and nonalcoholic drinks, and perhaps patrons who couldn’t drink would be even more likely to purchase these other items.

But let’s face it: What’s the appeal of a bar without alcohol? People certainly don’t go to the bar just for the ringing in their ears they’ll get from the blaring music. And most people don’t think of going to the pub for a good cheeseburger, that is normal, unless that pub also has a dinner menu. People go to the bar to relax, grab a few drinks with friends, and have a good time, not to mingle with the under-age and binge drinkers. And who’s to say that the people this event is meant to target will even show up at these alcohol-free nights? Those people who want to binge drink will still find a way to binge drink, even if they are unable to do so in their favorite bar for one night.

The Chicago Tribune reports that around 60 UI officials, community leaders, and bar owners at the summit proposed curbing tailgating at Hawkeye football games, while students suggested building a movie theater or bowling alley downtown to attract students at night. And in order to prevent some of the brawls that have been occurring outside of bars at night, Iowa City police are mulling installing security cameras on the Ped Mall.

Perhaps creating nonalcoholic businesses downtown that stay open past 5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays would attract students who would have otherwise ended up inebriated in bars out of boredom. Or maybe if the university were to sponsor a wide variety of events on Friday and Saturday nights, students would opt to attend. It’s at least worth a shot to test these options out. They are all reasonable ideas that should be considered before we persuade area bars to go dry.


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