By Alex Lippa
---- — New Hampshire is one of only four states where alcohol cannot be served after 1 a.m. But that could soon change.
"Last call" would be extended, with alcohol allowed to be served until 2 a.m. under a bill passed by the New Hampshire House of Representatives.
The potential economic benefits are easy to swallow, according to Rep. Mark Warden, R-Manchester, the legislation's sponsor.
“It’s a pro-business bill,” he said. “This would earn more revenue and keep more people from going over the border.”
But for some in the hospitality industry, it's not that simple.
“I would have to be against it,” said Mike Jordan, bar manager at Murray’s Tavern in Salem. “We just have so many liabilities on our hands already. It’s more aggravation for me than it’s worth.”
Jordan said he routinely has to call and even pay for cabs for people who are intoxicated.
“You have to be extremely careful in this business,” he said. “We’re basically professional babysitters.”
But one proponent said there are laws in place that should put bartenders and restaurateurs at ease.
“We have laws that protect bartenders and owners,” said Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry. “They shouldn’t put their license in jeopardy. They are required not to overserve.”
Both Massachusetts and Vermont have last call at 2 a.m. Maine’s last call is at 1 a.m.
Alicia Kalil, owner of 2 Sisters Sports Bar and Lounge in Plaistow, admitted it would be difficult to choose between receiving extra revenue and dealing with potential liability. But in the end, Kalil said her bar would likely stay open an extra hour.
“We have a later crowd as it is,” she said. “People start coming in at 10 p.m. By 12 or 12:30 a.m. is when the party is really started and people letting loose. I would be able to capitalize on it because it would extend one of our busier times.”
Mike Somers, president of the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association, said like Kalil, most bar owners would probably extend their hours to increase business. But he believes the bill could use some tweaking.
“It needs to be a clean vote with no options for change,” Somers said. “If some towns or bars are open until 1 a.m. and some are open until 2 a.m., it becomes very confusing.”
One key argument of proponents is customers would stay close to home and be less likely to travel across the border.
“There is something to be said that a fair amount of young people drive into northern Massachusetts because they can drink until 2 a.m., then they can come back afterwards," Somers said.
But the concern is the extra hour of drinking may lead to more drunken drivers on the road.
Plaistow Deputy Police Chief Kathleen Jones said she would prefer to see last call kept at 1 a.m.
“We don’t have too many bars that stay open that late as it is,” Jones said. “If someone is already intoxicated at 1 a.m., then the hour might be detrimental. But if they are out there, we’re going to catch them.”
Rep. Mary Till, D-Derry, agreed the risk of staying open an extra hour outweighs the reward.
“I don’t think there will be much additional revenue,” Till said. “People are going to party either way, but I’m not sure they will spend any more money. I think they have a limited amount of spending money to begin with. People who are going to be primarily at bars at 2 a.m. are the ones that are going to be overindulging and end up on our streets.”
Baldasaro said that would happen regardless of the closing time.
“You are going to have the same stupid, irresponsible people whether it’s 1 a.m. or 2 a.m.,” he said.
The bill, passed 208-123 on Thursday, now goes to the Senate.