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Southern California Might Be Preparing for a Big Nightlife Boom

Recent state-level activity could lead to a significant shift in Southern California’s nightlife culture

The Abbey Hosts “Countdown To Reopening” Party Photo by Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images
Mona Holmes is a reporter for Eater Los Angeles and a regular contributor to KCRW radio. She has covered restaurants, dining, and food culture since 2016. In 2022, the James Beard Foundation nominated her for a Jonathan Gold Local Voice Award.

There’s ample buzz surrounding the future of drinking at restaurants, bars, and clubs throughout California. Over the last month, legislation advanced that extends the sale of alcohol between 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. in specific California cities. Also on deck is a new requirement by California’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to further train workers who serve or manage cocktails, beer, and wine at a drinking establishment. The combination of these laws could spark a statewide boom for nightlife, especially in Southern California.

It’s an exciting prospect and answer to a common complain from visitors who are shocked when the last call for alcohol rings at 1 a.m. If legislation approves the bill, West Hollywood, Cathedral City, Palm Springs, Coachella, San Francisco, Oakland, and Fresno have the potential to fundamentally shift nightlife culture in those respective cities, mirroring that of New York City or Berlin where late-night cocktailing is a standard practice. That’s due to senator Scott Wiener’s late night pilot bar program — specifically Senate Bill 930 — which passed in the California senate in late June.

Another element gained momentum last week. ABC issued a requirement that bartenders, servers, and managers receive additional training starting on July 1. The online training geared toward safety and a certification to ensure that workers can properly vet IDs, serve properly, and make sure customers and surrounding communities are not impacted by overly inebriated individuals. Training must be complete by August 31.

With the emphasis on safety surrounding alcohol consumption and SB 930’s pilot program, the state appears to be preparing for the inevitable: to expand nightlife hours throughout California. Bar openings are higher than they’ve been since the pandemic began in 2020, with places like Eagle Rock’s Capri Club, and Silver Lake’s De Buena Planta adding a late-night bar attached to the restaurant. Both joined LA’s active bar community, with plenty more or on the horizon like Marina del Rey’s waterfront Dear Jane’s.

The most excitement is centered around West Hollywood, an independent city with the more restaurant/bar liquor licenses per square mile than any other city in California, reports Wehoville. Picture the future of bars and clubs on the Sunset Strip, the section of Santa Monica Boulevard between San Vicente and Robertson, and the active nightlife corridor on La Cienega extending last call to 4 a.m. Last week, West Hollywood’s business-friendly city council approved its 4 a.m. extension pilot program, even though the pilot program does not begin for another three years.

Adjacent late night restaurants, street food vendors, and rideshare drivers all stand to gain from having more people out during later hours. But the possibilities for additional revenue for both West Hollywood’s tax revenue and businesses is a different conversation. The Abbey owner David Cooley looks forward to starting the program. In an emailed statement to Eater LA, Cooley said, “Adopting the resolution to support SB 930 is an opportunity that’s not only good for the hospitality industry, but a measure that could allow more tax revenue for the city that can be allocated for community services like public safety — which we know is a concern of the residents here in West Hollywood. We owe it to our business community and our employees to trust that the City of West Hollywood will design a local extended hours program that best meets West Hollywood’s needs.”

Though Senator Wiener wrote SB 930 to help business owners recover from the devastating effects of COVID-19, but there’s ample and powerful opposition. Many argue that it’s long overdue for a legislative shift surrounding nightlife in California. The rules that permit the sale of alcohol between 6 a.m. and 2 a.m. were established in 1935, toward the end of Prohibition with the passage of the 21st Amendment.

This buzz must be tempered with some patience. Extended bar hours must still be approved by legislators and run from January 1, 2025 until January 2, 2030. Participating cities must work with law enforcement to ensure safety training and any additional transportation. ABC has an active hand by reviewing and approving all plans.