St. Pete tweaking rules for sidewalk cafes, bars
ST. PETERSBURG -
Crammed full with weekend revelers, a few downtown bars have recently came up with a novel way to serve thirsty patrons: rolling beer kegs onto the sidewalk and selling drinks there.
Unsure whether bar owners are breaking the law, police leaders have asked city officials to clarify city rules on outdoor eating and drinking.
“We don’t think it is covered under the café permit,” said police department spokesman Mike Puetz.
The makeshift “bars” have highlighted the problems police face keeping order in St. Petersburg’s expanding downtown bar scene.
Sprawling sidewalk cafes push pedestrians into the road. Noise and music from bars spills into the night air. Bar-hoppers take their drinks from one bar to another, unaware they are breaking the law.
Now, city officials are working to craft new regulations to govern how cafes, restaurants and bars use public right of ways.
The challenge: how to curb excesses without killing the party atmosphere.
“I want to be careful we don’t overregulate; it’s working really pretty well,” Councilman Bill Dudley said at a committee meeting Thursday, where the regulations were discussed.
Any new regulations are likely to set standards for noise, access and how close tables and chairs can be to the sidewalk. More controversially, they could require businesses to use plastic glasses for customers outside.
Such a restriction would not make sense for upscale restaurants such as Parkside Grill on Beach Drive, said Councilwoman Lesley Curran.
“There’s a big distinction between folks getting beer in a plastic cup and Parkside saying, ‘Here is your wine in a plastic cup,’” she said
The regulations would apply to businesses that use city-owned sidewalks but not to privately owned patios or courtyards.
Businesses with outdoor-eating areas are already required to maintain a 4-foot corridor so people can pass. Oftentimes, though, those are blocked by chairs, tables, umbrellas or customers waiting for seats.
Noise levels for nightclubs are governed by the city’s noise ordinance, but new regulations could put limits on music in outdoor-eating areas.
“Our overall goal would be to keep it reasonable and limit it to cafe areas,” said Phillip Lazzara, a city zoning official. “Most people are OK with some ambiance or amplified noise. A concert outside is not what most people think is reasonable.”
The new rules would have to be approved by city lawyers and the council before being adopted.
Sidewalk cafes and restaurants with outdoor dining areas have become a signature of Beach Drive and Central Avenue, allowing the downtown ambiance to overflow onto the sidewalks.
Chairs and tables line the sidewalk on all four sides of the block bordered by Central Avenue and First Avenue North.
Outside the Kitchen, an outdoor bar and restaurant at 226 First Ave. N., patrons can drink on bar stools or lounge on couchlike benches.
Cafe Del Mar on Central Avenue, which bills itself as a vintage ultra lounge, sometimes features live music on the sidewalk for outdoor customers.
Manager Chris Hamilton said he is wary of the city adopting more regulations.
Since December, the city has required bars that want to serve alcohol after midnight to purchase a $100 permit. Those permits can be revoked if bars fail to control unruly crowds.
“They’re hurting business,” Hamilton said. “They’ve been cracking down on us already.”