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21 ordinance prompts earlier drinking downtown

BY MARY HARRINGTON | MAY 09, 2011 7:20 AM

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The 21-ordinance has taken its toll on downtown bars, cutting back the number of students who once flocked to the watering holes in consistent, weekly herds.

And those who have spent many weekends serving and observing the young crowds said they're disappointed by the drop in the number of patrons at the bars.

But underage people seem to still try to beat the system and continue to join 21-year-olds in the bars when they can.

The 21-ordinance — which took effect on June 1, 2010, and which Iowa City residents voted to uphold in November 2010 — still allows for anyone under the legal drinking age to be in a bar before 10 p.m. Those who spend many hours downtown said they've noticed young people taking advantage of that window.

University of Iowa freshman Julia Mironiuk said she's perturbed by the 10 p.m. cutoff.

"You get there, and things are just getting started, and when you try to have a conversation, it's time to go," the 18-year-old said.

For those who try to enter bars after 10, risk becomes an issue, some students said.

"I'm not trying to get into a bar [after 10]," said a 20-year-old Des Moines native, who cited the fines and legal ramifications. "The fines are outrageous. We're just going to random house parties."

But the junior said he knows people go to the bars for the "social aspect."

"If everyone else is having fun, why can't we?"

Patrick Williams has worked at George's Best Gyros on the Pedestrian Mall for four years. This year, for the first time, he said, what was once a consistent flow of customers during the late-night hours has changed, and the typical bar-close rush has been transplanted to an earlier hour.

"There are definitely fewer people out, but we get the post-10 p.m. crowd now [around 10], something we didn't get before," Williams said.

Iowa City resident and bargoer Tim Collingsworth, 24, said he has seen groups of young students try to get away with drinking in bars earlier in the evening.

"They send one person to buy shots for a group of six, the same way it was done all night before the ordinance," he said.

But despite underage drinkers attempting to get into the bars while they still can, the collective loss of downtown bar-goers has still been too much for many.

Jasmine Grindeland is a waitresses at the Field House, 118 S. Dubuque St., which moved to a smaller facility following the 21-ordinance. Grindeland said the bar still looks busy, but mostly because the space is so much smaller. The establishment had to adjust to the changes to stay afloat.

Even employees in bars who never allowed underage people through their doors said they've noticed a change in the downtown scene.

"There has been a lot of displacement of people this year," said Frannie Owens, a bartender at Deadwood Tavern, 6 S. Dubuque St., which has long been 21-only.

"Since the notorious underage bars closed, people don't know where to go anymore," Owens said.
For UI sophomore Esma Dizdar, the ordinance becomes a matter of choices.

"It sucks not having options," Dizdar said. "House parties are a different atmosphere [from the bars]. It gets boring doing the same old thing every weekend."

And perhaps the statistics also show a shift toward neighborhood house parties.

Iowa City police have issued 229 disorderly house tickets since the ordinance, compared with 174 during the 11-month period before.

Megan Falat, 27, runs a karaoke night every week at Studio 13, 13 S. Linn St. The former UI student said the shrinking crowds this year have made the event less appealing to some.

"When they see what the bars have become, it makes people not want to come back," she said.

UI senior Melissa George said she considers downtown to be pretty boring without the crowds from years past.

"It used to be fun to go to the bars even if youcouldn't drink, and now that you can't drink or be at the bars, you don't really know what to do," the 22-year-old said.

Falat said it frustrates her when friends just under 21 cannot support her event because it is in a bar.

"The ordinance punishes everyone," she said. "Even those who used to enjoy downtown without breaking any laws."


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