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Bar owners could drop drink specials with 21-ordinance

BY MORGAN OLSEN | APRIL 16, 2010 7:30 AM

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Iowa City bar owners concerned about losing income after the 21-ordinance takes effect June 1 are beginning to ponder how to offset any losses.

One idea? Eliminate popular drink specials.

Iowa City City Councilor Connie Champion told The Daily Iowan after the 21-ordinance passed earlier this month that she thinks bar owners could offer fewer drink promotions as a way to generate more cash.

But with the large number of establishments with liquor licenses near campus — around three dozen in or near downtown — bar owners said competition keeps them from changing the deals.

“Whether the bars are 21 or not, there’s still going to be the same competition,” said Leah Cohen, the owner of Bo-James, 118 E. Washington St. “I don’t think you’ll see bar owners getting rid of specials.”

University of Iowa freshman Kyler Toben said dropping specials could mean less business from students.

“The cheaper the drinks, the more you’ll go,” said Toben, whose favorite special is punch-card night at One-Eyed Jakes. “That’s how undergrads think.”

Tom Lenoch, the general manager of three downtown bars including Jakes, said another one of Jakes’ specials — $1-you-call-it — will likely be cut.

The bar would offer “something like $2 or $2.50” per drink, he said.

During a citywide effort to curb dangerous drinking, bar owners in the home of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln agreed to raise the price of drink specials by around 50 cents per beverage. After a range of changes to combat drinking problems, the binge-drinking rate dropped 20 percent.

But one former Iowa City bar owner said eliminating drink specials shouldn’t be a priority.

Dave Moore, who has owned five bars in Iowa City, including the Fieldhouse and Hawkeye Hideaway, said bars will likely lose thousands each weekend when they are unable to charge underage patrons cover.

Still, he doesn’t think getting rid of drink specials will do much good.

“People are creatures of habit — they’ll go where their friends go and the deals are,” he said. “Without deals, that crowd will thin out.”

But Lenoch sees it differently.

“My experience has always been on cheap nights, they don’t want to pay cover,” he said.

Lenoch said he’d rather raise the price of drinks than charge a cover for simply entering the bar.

Instead, Lenoch said Jakes, 18-20 S. Clinton St., will get creative. The bar is now open during the day on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and he plans to get more microbrews on tap to target an older crowd.

Regenia Bailey, the only city councilor who voted against the 21-ordinance, said bar owners will have to figure out what works best for them.

“Business owners will use whatever business plan works for them,” she said. “If that means losing specials, and that works for them, all the better.”

Locally, Iowa City has several city codes that restrict bars’ alcohol sales. Downtown bars can’t have “all you can drink” specials or increase the amount of liquor in a drink without increasing the price proportionally, said Assistant City Attorney Eric Goers.

Statewide, Iowa doesn’t have any laws restricting drink prices or bar specials.

“Drink specials would likely stop if all bars agreed to do it,” said Administrator of the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division Lynn Walding. “But there’s not a good chance of that happening — as long as it’s legal, there’s a need to compete.”

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