By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — The License Commission took no action last night on a proposal to roll back the Friday-night-into-Saturday morning closing time for restaurants and bars from 2 a.m. to 1 a.m. — effectively killing the measure.
After the meeting, Mayor James Fiorentini said he will ask City Council next week to approve his plan to assign a police officer to a walking beat downtown on Friday night. The shift would start next Friday, last through the summer and be paid for with overtime money, the mayor said.
“I don’t have a position on the earlier closing time, but let’s see if the walking patrol solves the problem,” Fiorentini said.
At the commission’s meeting, Captain Alan Ratte, the Police Department’s liaison to the commission, said the department wanted closing time rolled back to 1 a.m.
“The police chief wants the hour rolled back because of the resources we have to use downtown between 1 and 2 a.m.,” Ratte said of police Chief Alan DeNaro. “We end up sending officers down there between those hours that could be elsewhere. It can leave us short covering other parts of the city.”
Restaurant mangers and owners who commented on the proposal last night said they prefer to keep the hours as they are.
Toma Sargent, owner of Toma’s Bar & Grille on Washington Street, said he does up to $1,000 in sales during the 1 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday-night-into-Saturday-morning hour.
“I’ve been here for many years and had zero problems, so we should my hours be reduced?” Sargent said.
That was also the prevailing sentiment among commissioners.
“I prefer to keep the hours as they are and, if there are problems with a specific restaurant or bar, then we’ll address them on a case-by-case basis,” commission member Timothy Coco said.
Joseph Edwards, chairman of the commission, said several downtown restaurants that stay open to 2 a.m. Saturday morning lock their doors at 1 a.m. to keep more customers from walking in during that final hour.
“They only let customers who are inside at 1 stay until 2,” Edwards said of the Tap Brewhouse, The Lasting Room and Hans Garden. “They don’t let any new customers in past 1. Most of the owners and managers prefer to police themselves.”
In 2006, the commission voted that all bars and restaurants in the city must close by 1 a.m., except Saturday mornings, in response to a rash of late-night trouble, including fights, vandalism and noise that bothered people who live in downtown apartments and condos.
The change came as city officials began encouraging more residential housing downtown.