Do lawmakers still care about saving neighborhood bars?

What’s your city doing to help your local bars stay in business? I’d love to hear about it:

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Hopefully, whatever you’re seeing in your community is better than what Charleston, South Carolina is up to these days. Despite soaring Omicron case counts and the 13th highest number of coronavirus-related deaths in the country, city officials here in the Holy City (or as I like to call it, “Covid’s Airbnb”) recently decided two popular neighborhood joints—babas on cannon, and Cutty’s Elliotborough Establishment—had to dismantle their outdoor parklets and yield that space back to motorists clamoring for that sweet, sweet free parking.

A post shared by babas on cannon (@babasoncannon)

Take it from me, a Charleston resident who drinks: both these parklets were delightful and unobtrusive, and improved the city blocks on which they’d been built. And now they’re gone. Given Charleston’s relatively mild winter (it’s like 50°F and sunny as I type this, lol), the wealth of evidence that Covid-19 is less transmissible outside, and the aforementioned plague surge here in the Palmetto State, this might seem counterintuitive to you. Ditto!

There’s a bunch of inside-baseball bullshit about why the city’s leaders put the kibosh on this pair of parklets—state/local road control battles, car-centric decision making, boomer-brained fear of progress, etc.—but I don’t really care to litigate any of that at the moment, and I assume you don’t either. The bottom line is Charleston’s bar parklets are gone, and both the bars and the drinkers they serve (very much including your fearless Fingers editor) are worse off for it.

Lucky for you, South Carolina’s backwards politics do not extend beyond its borders. Other state and local jurisdictions are doing things to actually help their struggling bars, rather than jam them up as the pandemic enters its third year. A lot of that assistance comes in the form of loosened alcohol sales rules: according to a December 2021 report from the Washington Post, 16 states have permanently legalized to-go cocktails since all this *gestures vaguely into the abyss* began, with another nine either passing laws or changing regulations to allow for more direct-to-consumer booze sales.

Still, drinking off-premise—i.e., in your house—is simply no substitute for drinking amongst your community at a local bar. These reforms, progressive and welcome though they may be, do little to safeguard neighborhood bars as vital third places in the urban landscape. A great wail went up early in the pandemic about “saving” bars, but 20 months later, it’s receded to little more than a murmur. So I’d like to know:

How is your city/town/etc. helping out its on-premise drinking establishments these days?

Could policymakers be doing more? Are NIMBYs clawing back parking spots that had been briefly, gloriously converted into founts of alcohol-abetted civic life? Tell me what it looks like on the ground wherever you’re at. I’d love to hear from you.—Dave.

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P.S.: For more on the importance of dive bars to the civic fabric of America’s cities, check out The Fingers Podcast episode from May 2021 with Brandon Hinke, the guy behind @picturesofdives.