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California’s Failed 3 a.m. Bar Bill Could Have Reshaped LA, For Better or Worse

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Are later bar hours an economic boon, or an excuse for mayhem?

Barman`s hands sprinkling the juice into the cocktail glass filled with alcoholic drink on the dark background
Barman`s hands sprinkling the juice into the cocktail glass filled with alcoholic drink on the dark background
Maksym Fesenko via Shutterstock

For the third time, the Late Night Bar Bill, officially known as Senate Bill 58, failed to pass through the California state legislature. As with the previous versions of SB 58, the law would have allowed bars in select cities (including Los Angeles and West Hollywood) to remain open until 3 a.m. or 4 a.m.

Depending on the bill’s supporters or naysayers, a final call for alcohol was either a dangerous law, or an economic boost.

SB 58 passed by a two-thirds vote in the assembly in 2018, but was vetoed by Governor Gavin Newsom’s predecessor, Jerry Brown. During the 2019 fall legislative session, it could not garner enough votes to head to Newsom’s desk for signature. It’s unclear whether the bill’s sponsors might introduce a new, slightly tweaked bill, or even if Newsom is sympathetic to the change. But for now, SB 58’s 3 a.m. last call in Los Angeles, Long Beach, West Hollywood, Long Beach, Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Coachella, San Francisco, Sacramento, and Oakland is officially dead.

Two cocktail ingredients being poured into a beaker at a bar.
A cocktail in the making
Wonho Frank Lee

To get a sense of the bill’s potential impact in Los Angeles, Eater spoke with a bar owner, local resident, and politician about SB 58.

Marc Smith, owner Three Clubs in Hollywood

“Part of what tanked (SB 58) was partisanship and districting. It seemed to favor certain areas (in California). It’s disappointing, and it would’ve given us a world class late nightlife like Tokyo, Vegas, and the Middle East. Eventually, it will pass but it needs to play less favorites.”

“Clearly we were biased towards its success. We are limited and close when we’re busiest. It’s just crazy when people down drinks before 1:30 and there’s big flood on the streets. I think people and businesses would’ve staggered their hours. It would’ve been a positive against drunk driving, and encouraged people to spread out the evening and not drive.”

“The reality of the current drinker [is that] no one is driving anymore. We have a 60-space parking lot that rarely gets used. We wouldn’t want to over-serve everyone, but would’ve figured out what worked with later hours.”

“Having government step away and give us more freedom to be more looser in regulations would’ve been good, and the economic boom. It would’ve helped increase our sales.”

Los Angeles Councilman, Paul Koretz

“While extending alcohol service might have a few modest positives including slightly more revenue for a few bars and making us seem a little more hip, studies show that with it we can expect to see a devastating increase in alcohol-related injuries, crime, death, and DUIs. A macro-study by Dr Jonathan Fielding has shown that this has been the case in countries that expanded bar hours. Not only does SB 58 have the potential to endanger millions of Californians who could be within harm’s way as drunk drivers make their way into commuter traffic but recent cost analysis showed that if implemented at only five percent of establishments, we can expect this to cost LA tax payers more than $50 million per year. Cost in lives and dollars just isn’t worth the risk.”

Matthaeus Szumanski, lives walking distance from Next Door Lounge, Formosa Cafe, and Jones Bar

I have always thought it odd that California, which is such a progressive state in so many ways, has such puritanical laws when it comes to bars. Existing last call laws have meant that LA shuts down very early, compared to cities like New York, London, Paris, or Taipei. I welcome the change. The existing last call laws mean that bars all empty at around 1:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. In a city like LA, that means there is still a lot of traffic in the city at that point, and the sudden influx of potentially inebriated drivers presents a hazard to being on the roads at that time. Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards are near where I live, can currently become suddenly crowded with rowdy carousers at 2 a.m. on a Saturday night, who know they have to leave the clubs, but aren’t ready to go home.”

“Not everyone is going to want to party until 4 a.m. The arrival of ride-sharing services has made it easier than it used to be to avoid driving drunk in a city as car-bound as LA, but inevitably some percentage of drinkers will get behind the wheel. I currently live near quite a few bars, and I suppose there is always a risk of the occasional late-night yelling drunks, but honestly here in Hollywood, it’s not the drunks that are most likely to be causing a ruckus.”

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