PAWTUCKET – By a 7-1 vote on Friday afternoon, the City Council allowed restaurants in Pawtucket to serve mimosas with your muffins and bloody marys with your bagels, as councilors opted to extend temporary outdoor alcohol service in the city from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
The council had initially voted last week to allow outside dining between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m., with alcohol served outdoors between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m., and last call at 9:30 p.m. through Sept. 30. However, following discussions with and requests from numerous restaurateurs in the city, the council had to go back to the drawing board Friday afternoon to amend the resolution’s hours.
The initial resolution before the council on Friday was to extend temporary outdoor food service from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., with outdoor alcohol service from noon to 11 p.m., with last call for beverages at 10:30 p.m., but some councilors on Friday inquired about offering alcohol service earlier than noon for breakfast establishments that may want to serve drinks such as mimosas or bloody marys, said District 1 Councilor and Council President David P. Moran.
“We’ve never dealt with this as a council, these are uncharted waters,” Moran said. “We don’t want to keep making changes … You try to do the best you can, you help out businesses the best you can, so we did another amendment to go back to 11 a.m.”
That amendment ultimately passed muster with the council by a 7-1 vote, with District 4 Councilor John J. Barry III as the lone dissenter. Barry said while he understood the motives and felt the council’s desires were right, he became uncomfortable with the fact that residents were not given the opportunity to voice their opinions on the earlier timeframe.
“A lot of these businesses are abutting residential properties. We did this kind of quickly to assist the businesses. When we start talking about 11 and people could be outside drinking, maybe a fence away from people next door, I think they should have an opportunity to say something, that wasn’t afforded to them really,” Barry said. “I would’ve gone along with 12, when we got to 11, I just felt like we were not giving abutters a true opportunity to chime in and I think it will cause problems down the road.”
“The whole motive was to assist these struggling businesses and I want to do that, there are a number in the Fourth District,” he continued. “I just think it changes the situation and those abutters who live next door to some of these places should have the opportunity to chime in. I got uncomfortable ... that we hadn’t given people an opportunity to chime in.”
“I understand the motive, I think our desire was right,” he added. “I would’ve been comfortable with 4, I could’ve lived with 12, but I think we’ve gone a little further than we’ve planned.”
Moran said he felt the council’s action during Friday’s meeting was “fair” and “responsive to the businesses, responding very quickly to their needs, especially with the situation at hand.”
“It’s trial and error,” he said. “You take baby steps, going slow at it, now you can look back and play Monday morning quarterback, but going back to 11 a.m. makes sense. Right now, I feel comfortable 11 to 11. It’s responsive to businesses and the best we can do for now. Is it perfect? Maybe not, but this is not a perfect situation to begin with.”
“I hope it works out for everybody. I can’t promise you we’re not going to have to revisit it, but I think it’s a great start we’re doing for the businesses,” the council president said.
District 3 Councilor Terrence E. Mercer called for the initial amendment, saying the first vote – to serve alcohol outdoors starting at 4 p.m. – didn’t fully take into account establishments that could serve a beer with a burger or a glass of wine with pizza at lunch.
“When we went with 4, we were thinking more dining and dinner,” Mercer said. “The biggest issue with this is this is allowing parcels and areas around restaurants that have never been considered for outdoor seating ... We’re trying to balance the ability for restaurants to get back on their feet with the ability for residents in the immediate area to not be more negatively impacted by the pandemic.”
By a unanimous vote, the council on Friday also approved language that says there will be no applications accepted for permanent outdoor seating until Oct. 1, as councilors are hopeful that by then interior dining will have returned to the state and more people will be able to participate in public hearings on permanent outdoor seating requests.
Jonathan Bissonnette on Twitter @J_Bissonnette