A stroll down an often alcohol-sodden Ocean Drive in the wee hours of the morning could be very different if Miami Beach City Hall follows through on a proposal to ban alcohol sales in outdoor areas from 2 to 8 a.m.
At Wednesday’s City Commission meeting, Mayor Philip Levine proposed a change to city law that would prohibit the sale and consumption of alcohol at sidewalk cafes, patios and bars throughout the city between 2 a.m. and 8 a.m. Currently, last call inside and outside is 5 a.m.
Levine said Ocean Drive — a stretch known for its busy nightlife in clubs and restaurants — has deteriorated over the years into a dangerous, “terrible” place. After asking law enforcement about it, he proposed the tighter restrictions on selling alcohol.
“This place has turned into a very challenging area that requires a tremendous amount of our police resources to enforce and create safety,” he said. “We’ve had this conversation many, many times. It’s turning into a Bourbon Street. It’s turning into a terrible place that’s become a blight, a cancer that spreads to our entire city.”
Police Chief Dan Oates said the department sees the late night alcohol sales as a catalyst for bad behavior in South Beach.
“Generally, it’s the sentiment of the command staff and the folks who have been here for a long time … that this is a driver of activity between 2 and 6 in the morning,” he said. “Obviously, it’s a policy decision for you. But would Ocean Drive be easier to police if we stop serving liquor at 2 a.m.? The answer’s clearly yes.”
Such a change would send a tremor through the businesses fronting the street that seat visitors at tables on the sidewalk for food and drinks. Commissioner Ed Tobin noted that a well-known establishment like The Clevelander, which has a large outdoor bar, could get hit hard.
While he agreed Ocean Drive needs a change, he suggested studying the issue before going straight into the prohibition.
“When we come up with our various solutions to make things better, I don’t want to do the one that is the easiest and fastest,” he said. “I’d like to do the ones that will have the more significant impact.”
Ceci Velasco, executive vice president of operations at Mango’s Tropical Cafe, shares some of the commission’s concerns about safety in the area. She said Mango’s is hiring a security guard to stand outside on Ninth Street and Ocean Drive and call code enforcement or the police if any problems occur.
But she said she prefers working with private security and law enforcement to improve safety to creating a wide-reaching ban.
“They’re basically shutting down sidewalk cafes,” she said.
Edouard Huc, general manager of Ocean’s 10, said members of the Ocean Drive Association will meet next week to address the prohibition, which he considers too broad.
“Every owner is different, but for us it’s nonsense,” he said. “The problems of the city of Miami Beach are not just due to alcohol.”
Even though Wednesday’s discussion focused on South Beach, the ban would be citywide and also include open-air bars and restaurants in courtyards, patios and terraces.
City Attorney Raul Aguila said he was going to draft the ordinance as broadly as possible and then let commissioners decide if they want to narrow its reach. He said the proposal falls in line with other efforts to protect some of South Beach’s most iconic neighborhoods, like the recent ban on commercial handbills in the area’s busiest corridors.
“These areas are architecturally historic gems,” he told the commission. “Perhaps some of the luster in some of these areas has diminished.”
The idea doesn’t have full support on the dais. Commissioner Michael Grieco said he felt police could be doing more to patrol Ocean Drive.
“I personally walked there at 10:30 at night on a Thursday two weeks ago and I didn’t see one cop,” he said.
Grieco echoed Tobin when he offered a tweak that would limit the ban to sidewalk tables, which require a permit. He suggested attaching the limitation to the permit.
“It’s something to consider that may be a compromise,” he said.
Levine disagreed and wanted to push with the amendment as proposed.
Meanwhile, some South Beach residents came out in support, saying South Beach’s commercial success has given way to a less family-friendly atmosphere.
“We are victims of our success,” said Frank Del Vecchio, longtime activist and resident of the south of Fifth Street neighborhood. “We have people who want to invest and live here. Now they’re [conflicted] because they’re subjected to an environment they didn’t expect.”
The commission will consider the drafted ordinance in May.