By John Toole
---- — Southern New Hampshire bars and patrons aren’t yet thirsting for a later last call.
While Gov. Maggie Hassan and Legislature agreed to let Granite Staters have another drink after 1 o’clock in the morning, town officials across the region report no requests to extend closing time.
The new law allows towns to permit bars and restaurants to stay open until 2 a.m., starting Jan. 1, with approval of the local legislative body.
That could mean a public hearing and vote of the board in communities with a town council form of government, or a vote of the people at Town Meeting under the selectmen form of government.
But thus far no one’s debating the need for this.
“We haven’t been approached by anyone yet,” Salem Selectmen’s Chairman Everett McBride said. “I don’t have a problem with it. But if there’s no demand, there’s no sense in pursuing it.”
McBride said he did hear from Salem businesses last winter that were interested in passage of House Bill 575, but said they have not contacted him since it became law.
The bill passed the Senate on a voice vote, with the House approving the Senate-approved version, 220-109. Hassan signed the last call bill into law this month.
For some towns, it’s just not an issue.
“I don’t think we have anything that would fall under that,” said Barbara Snicer, administrative assistant to the Atkinson selectmen.
The town only has a sub shop and a breakfast place, she said.
“There are no bars in Sandown this would affect,” selectmen’s assistant Paula Gulla said.
Pelham Selectmen’s Chairman Ed Gleason said there have been no calls yet for a later last call.
“We haven’t heard a word,” he said.
But Pelham doesn’t have many businesses that would be affected, he said.
“There’s not much of a market,” Gleason said.
Derry, like Salem, has many bars and restaurants, but Acting Town Administrator Larry Budreau said businesses haven’t approached the town and the town council hasn’t brought up the matter.
“Neither has occurred so far,” Budreau said.
He said he hasn’t reviewed the bill yet, but Budreau said the process likely would involve the council holding a public hearing before acting on a proposal, should the issue move forward.
The bill’s passage pleased Ryan Tobin, co-owner of The Halligan Tavern in downtown Derry.
“We welcome the extra business,” Tobin said. “It would be nice to keep customers in town, rather than have them go out of state.”
The tavern stays open until 1 a.m. now.
Tobin said the business would go along with whatever the town should decide about closing time.
Londonderry officials haven’t had a request for later last call.
“Nobody has asked,” Town Council Chairman John Farrell said.
If the issue arises, the town would look first to police for their input and also would hold a public hearing before taking any action, he said.
Windham Selectmen’s Chairman Phil LoChiatto said the town hasn’t received a request to extend last call, but there are only a handful of businesses that would be affected.
LoChiatto said some already choose to close earlier than the state’s existing 1 a.m. law allows.
“A lot of them would be affected by zoning,” he said. “They are in a neighborhood business zone with restrictions on hours.”
The issue hasn’t come up in Hampstead, Newton, Kingston, Plaistow or Danville, officials said.
“Unless someone comes up to me to make a case, I wouldn’t change anything,” Hampstead Selectman Richard Hartung said.
Rep. Mark Warden, R-Goffstown, sponsored the bill.
“I did it at the urging of a few business owners,” Warden said.
A later last call is especially important for businesses in the Lakes Region and on the Seacoast that derive the bulk of their revenue from summer trade, he said.
Warden said second-shift workers also want a later last call.
“If somebody gets off at midnight or 1 o’clock, they can get dinner and a glass of wine,” he said. “This is more on their time schedule.”
Rep. Keith Murphy, R-Bedford, owner of a Manchester restaurant, testified before a Senate committee that later calling hours could boost state revenues from rooms-and-meals taxes and help border businesses.
Murphy cited later calling hours in Vermont and Massachusetts drawing away New Hampshire customers.
“Those places in Nashua and Salem lose a lot of business over the border right now, resulting in more people driving back having alcohol at a later hour,” Murphy testified.
Opponents included the State Liquor Commission, state Department of Safety and New Futures, an advocacy group working to limit drug and alcohol abuse.
Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, D-Portsmouth, said college towns including Durham, Keene and Plymouth opposed a later last call.
“They have grave reservations about extending the drinking hours,” Clark said.
Warden acknowledged opposition from police over the proposal. He said they were concerned about an increase in drunken driving.
“Their arguments were hollow and uninformed,” he said.
New Hampshire already has DWI laws that apply throughout the day, as well as laws against over-serving and serving those who are under age, Warden said.