In Bellevue, alcohol rules are frustrating
Share with others:
A person can drink a beer in Bellevue while walking down a public sidewalk but is forbidden to sip that same brew while sitting at a sidewalk table outside a restaurant.
That confusing reality was preserved last week, when borough council voted 5-3 against allowing patrons to bring their own alcohol to drink at outdoor restaurant tables. Restaurant customers still are allowed to BYOB inside.
Bellevue is a dry borough -- meaning restaurants in the borough cannot apply for liquor licenses -- but it doesn't have an open-container law prohibiting consumption in public.
So for now, a person can drink an alcoholic beverage on the sidewalk next to an outdoor restaurant table, but not at the table itself, confirmed borough manager Douglas Sample.
Clear on that? The situation, however, could change again soon -- a law preventing drinking on the streets is making its way through a council committee, Mr. Sample said.
"It really makes no sense that you could stand out in front of a restaurant and drink from an open container, but you can't sit out at table and be served food with a bottle of wine," said Kathy Coder, a council member who voted to allow outdoor drinking at restaurants.
In interviews since the outside BYOB law failed, Bellevue restaurant owners said they, too, were puzzled by the council vote.
At Acoustic Moose Cafe, where Ms. Coder stopped to pick up lunch one afternoon last week, owner Adam Gibson said he thought council had created too many restrictions on businesses and residents. He said if restaurants could monitor outdoor drinking, he saw no problem with allowing it.
"We have to kind of give businesses a break," he said as he bagged a ham and cheese wrap for Ms. Coder.
"We need to be a town that's easy to do business with," the councilwoman added.
Acoustic Moose Cafe allows customers to bring their own beer to its music nights. Mr. Gibson said that though he doesn't have outdoor seating, he supported allowing outdoor BYOB because it would encourage other restaurants to stay in Bellevue.
Danina DiBattista, who owns Bite Bistro on Lincoln Avenue, agreed that the new rule, which would have established a 45-day trial period for outdoor BYOB, would have been positive, not only for her restaurant but for other Bellevue businesses.
"I think having tables and chairs on Lincoln Avenue with happy people eating and drinking looks good and makes people want to spend their money here," she said.
In late April, Ms. DiBattista proposed the change that would have allowed outdoor diners to have drinks with their meals. She presented council with a 490-signature petition in support of her proposal.
She said council members who voted against the law provided her with no explanation for why they had done so. Linda Woshner, council president, declined to comment for this report.
After the council vote, Councilman Jim Viscusi said he liked the idea of allowing BYOB customers to eat outside but voted against the law because a public referendum had not passed last year that would have allowed liquor licenses for restaurants in the borough. That referendum was defeated by 87 votes, keeping Bellevue a dry borough; a liquor license referendum cannot be on the ballot again for four years.
Councilman Mark Helbling, who voted for the BYOB change, said the public referendum on liquor licenses was not related to the outdoor BYOB law.
"There is absolutely no comparison," he said. "We are a BYOB town."
Mr. Helbling said objections to the liquor license referendum were related to bars opening in Bellevue, not customers drinking at restaurants.
"It's just a real shame that [other council members] don't see the attraction it is to restaurant customers, the economic value and the help that some of the restaurants need to keep attracting customers," he said.
Bellevue Mayor George Doscher, who said he did not support the liquor license referendum in Bellevue because he did not want bars in the town, said he supported outdoor BYOB "100 percent."
Bellevue has been a dry borough since 1935, two years after Prohibition ended. Restaurants there cannot apply for liquor licenses, but state liquor stores and wholesale malt beverage retailers are allowed, according to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. Four other Allegheny County municipalities do not allow restaurants to sell beer or liquor, according to the board.
For Bite Bistro, the failure of the outdoor BYOB law was another blow to a restaurant already struggling to compete with Pittsburgh eateries, Ms. DiBattista said. The failed liquor license referendum was the first blow.
"The craft cocktail is very popular right now," she said in explaining a moneymaker that is unavailable to her. Customers also often come into her restaurant wanting to drink at an outdoor table, but she must tell them they can't.
At Luigi's Pizzeria & Ristorante, owner Luigi Della Ragione said he, too, would like to sell alcohol at his restaurant. He said allowing businesses to obtain liquor licenses would bring more revenue to the borough.
Inside Lincoln Barbershop, owner Aaron Stubna was cutting Mr. Della Ragione's hair. The barber paused to tell a visitor that allowing restaurants to sell alcohol would keep young people from leaving Bellevue when they were ready to purchase homes.
Mr. Stubna, who worked to pass the liquor license referendum, said he lived in Bellevue 18 years ago, but when he was ready to buy a home, he moved back to Kennedy because Bellevue offered little in nightlife.
"It's up to them to keep us here," he said, referring to Bellevue council. "It'd be nice to hang out here and spend some money. Once I leave here, I don't come back until morning."
Correction/Clarification: (Published July 17, 2012) Bellevue council voted 5-3 against an ordinance that would have allowed customers to drink their own alcohol at tables outside borough restaurants. Lynn Tennant Heffley, 3rd Ward council member, was absent. The voting numbers were incorrect Monday.
First Published July 16, 2012 12:00 am