Champaign may tighten alcohol laws

By Patrick Wade

The Champaign City Council will vote Tuesday night on an ordinance banning shot servers and celebrity bartenders and limiting private parties at bars.

Champaign mayor and liquor commissioner Gerald Schweighart said the proposed ordinance is intended to deter binge drinking at campus bars, though he said it is unlikely to accomplish that goal.

“It’ll be one little step,” Schweighart said. “It tries to clear up a problem we’ve been having with outsiders coming into a bar, renting out a space and then holding a private party.”

The ordinance would require the sponsor of a private party to sign a contract detailing the event and who is responsible for incidents that happen at the party. It also prohibits special pricing of drinks during those parties. Schweighart said this is to address problems the city has been having with liability issues.

The council took a straw poll in a July 10 study session and voted in favor of all of these changes.

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Now, the Illinois Student Senate is getting involved.

The Government Affairs Committee of the Illinois Student Senate approved a resolution last week detailing its position on the proposed city ordinance. The committee supports requiring contracts for hosts of private parties and banning celebrity bartenders.

“(Celebrity bartenders) promote excessive binge drinking, if we just have some random guy bartending who’s not trained,” said Frank Calabrese, student senator and junior in LAS, who authored the resolution.

Bartenders who are employed by a liquor establishment must be approved by the Training for Intervention Procedures program, which teaches servers how to responsibly sell and distribute alcohol. The proposed ordinance would prohibit bartenders who are not employed by an establishment from selling or serving alcohol, except at charity functions.

“I understand not having celebrity bartenders, who have undergone no training and have no accountability,” said Dist. 2 Council member Michael La Due. “I’m sympathetic to the idea that the only people serving anything should be employees of the premises. But I don’t understand why you would want to make it that much more difficult to rent a facility.”

Calabrese is worried that limiting private parties at bars will encourage the outsourcing of those parties to private residences.

“Bars have capacity controls, fire controls, security, trained bartenders,” Calabrese said. He added that taking these parties out of the bars and into private residences removes those safety measures and is hazardous to everyone attending the party.

Eric Meyer, the owner of KAM’s, 618 E. Daniel St., said that a lot of the parties will head to downtown bars, even outside the Champaign-Urbana area, which has been a recent trend for private functions.

“I think what it’ll probably do is drive parties off campus, where parties are less scrutinized and less watched in the public eye,” Meyer said. “We’ve seen that over the past five years.”

If the council approves the proposed ordinance in its current form, Meyer said that the jobs of shot servers, many of whom are certified by the Training for Intervention Procedures program, are in jeopardy.

“I think it’s unfortunate to the shot girls,” Meyer said. “In many cases that’s an entry-level job before girls start bartending. I would anticipate in many bars across campus here, that would potentially cost 50 to 60 people their jobs.”

The city council may still amend the ordinance to remove the banning of shot girls. Calabrese said he believes its removal is likely based on numerous meetings with the mayor and council members.

Jacki Polancic, sophomore in LAS, works as a shot server and is concerned for her job.

“I’ve been working for a while, and to all of a sudden get fired for something like that is bad,” Polancic said. She added she is waiting to see if the ordinance is passed to find out the status of her employment.

Calabrese said it is important for the students to express their opinions before the city passes more legislation he believes limits the rights of students.

“I think the city of Champaign should not play big brother to the students,” he said. “I think the students have a right to enjoy themselves in a responsible fashion.”