What's at stake
Want to stay out late Sunday? In unincorporated Collier and Lee counties, as well as in the city of Marco Island, bars and restaurants are allowed to serve alcohol between 7 a.m. Sunday and 2 a.m. Monday. In Naples, the city allows bars and restaurants to serve alcohol between 7 a.m. and midnight Sundays (midnight is considered the end of the day).
NAPLES — Six nights a week, beer pours out of the taps behind the bar at Paddy Murphy’s Irish Pub until nearly 2 a.m.
It’s a niche the downtown Naples bar has carved for itself through the years. It caters to people meandering down the street after a late dinner or the servers at other Fifth Avenue South restaurants who want to grab a drink after a long shift.
But come Sunday night, last-call switches from after midnight to 11:30 p.m., when the bar must close its doors because of a law that prohibits bars and restaurants in Naples from serving alcohol after midnight on Sundays.
That could change.
The Naples City Council is scheduled to discuss later this month whether to change the law that governs bars and restaurants to allow licensed vendors to serve until 2 a.m. seven days a week. The discussion comes after the owners of Paddy Murphy’s asked council last month to consider a change that would align Naples laws with those in unincorporated Collier County.
“... It just seems ridiculous. When it comes to things like this, I think we need to remember we’re in a competitive environment,” said Councilman Sam Saad, who then alluded to the new Mercato commercial-residential development in North Naples. “With all the hype and hoopla about Mercato, we spend all the money on Fifth Avenue sprucing it up, then we’re going to tell businesses they can’t compete.”
Naples city code states that it is unlawful for any bottle club or vendor to sell, or serve, alcohol between 2 a.m. Sunday and 7 a.m. Monday. It isn’t yet clear if the city might address changing that part of the law.
There are some exceptions to the city law regulating when alcohol can be sold, however. A restaurant holding a city license and deriving at least 51 percent of its gross income from the sale of food and nonalcoholic beverages can serve alcohol between 7 a.m. Sundays and midnight on Sundays. So can hotels and motels, as well as vendors with a conditional-use permit.
Paddy Murphy’s has such a permit, and is therefore allowed to serve alcohol until midnight Sundays (midnight is considered the end of the day).
But Mike O’Regan, the bar’s owner, said come 11:30 p.m. Sundays, his customers are starting to discuss where to go in the unincorporated area to keep the party going.
“Every Sunday, and we’ve been here 14 years, it never changes,” O’Regan said.
O’Regan said his bar loses up to 100 customers, or between $2,000 and $3,000, each Sunday night because of the city’s law.
“An extra two hours would be beneficial to business,” he told council last month.
In the unincorporated area of Collier County, taverns with a valid license can sell or serve alcoholic beverages between 7 a.m. and 2 a.m. seven days a week.
That law, according to an e-mail from county government spokesman John Torre, dates to 1978.
Alcoholic beverages can be served between 7 a.m. and 2 a.m. seven days a week in Lee County as well.
Naples council members last month said they were amenable to a conversation about changing the law, but were quick to point out that just because establishments in the unincorporated area serve until 2 a.m., it doesn’t mean Naples should as well.
“I don’t think we have to judge the city by what happens in the county,” Councilwoman Dee Sulick said during the Jan. 19 City Council meeting.
That’s true, Councilman John Sorey said, but in difficult economic times the city should be looking at ways to help out businesses.
Council members agree, and said they just want to have a discussion about whether Naples residents would be open to the idea of keeping downtown businesses open later.
“It’s important for us as a community to have a discussion about whether it’s acceptable or not,” Councilman Gary Price said. “I’d like to hear from the public. I don’t know what kind of demand there is … but I’m going to keep an open mind about it.”
This won’t be the first time the county’s laws have been an impetus for change in Naples. The city’s code didn’t permit the sale of alcohol on Sundays until 1981. The change made that year allowed bona fide restaurants to serve alcoholic beverages between noon and midnight Sunday, according to a Daily News records search.
Restaurateurs at the time said they were losing business to establishments in the unincorporated area because those restaurants could serve alcohol.
Booze – and when vendors in Naples could sell it – was back on the agenda in 1993, when council members once again discussed the sale of alcohol on Sundays. The discussion, according to minutes from a March 22, 1993, meeting, centered around “existing regulations.”
At the time, then-Councilman Peter Van Arsdale said he didn’t believe the law served a purpose because, according to meeting minutes, “anyone can drive a short distance to the county and purchase alcoholic beverages on Sunday.”
Council members at the time agreed, and city records show that after some discussion, council members asked that an ordinance be drafted to allow the carry-out sale of alcoholic beverages on Sundays.
One month later, when the ordinance came back to council for the initial approval, council members saw an ordinance that allowed for any vendor, whether it be a restaurant or a convenience store, to sell alcoholic beverages from 7 a.m. to midnight on Sundays.
Minutes from the 1993 meetings show there was little comment from the public about whether the law should be changed.
Naples residents will have their first chance to publicly voice their opinion about whether the city should change the law on Monday, Feb. 14, when council is set to discuss Paddy Murphy’s request.