At least twice in my memory local entrepreneurs have had the idea of opening a “juice bar” for those 18 and under. Both times the venture failed before it even began because of public pressure about the problems that the establishment would create. The outcry was over the potential for fights and drug use. I think that the one thing that you could definitely predict at a club for teens is that there would be occasional fights, and that those kids into drug use would attempt to buy, sell, and use drugs while there.
Would there be any more fights and any more drug use than there would have been had the clubs actually ever opened? That I do not know, I don’t know if it’s even knowable, the bottom line for politicians is that they wouldn’t happen at the club they allowed to open. Along with that, the general attitude that anything that might have any negative aspects should be avoided isn’t rational in my opinion. To take the juice bar example, kids are going to get into fights, and kids with a proclivity for drug use will find opportunities to use drugs, the juice bar probably just concentrates (pun intended) the bad behavior in a place where it is more visible and more subject to political judgement.
The bottom line here is that the potential positive aspects of giving kids a place to socialize in public, under the adult supervision that a commercial establishment could provide are foregone in order to avoid the political fallout of being blamed for, though in my opinion not at all causing or even enabling, bad behavior.
I see something almost inverted yet correlated in the response of city leaders to the occasional violence and disturbances which break out at closing time in the downtown’s club district. The city changed closing time from 2 a.m. to 1 a.m. for most establishments, which to me has no reasoning behind it except possibly to make the area less popular overall (Why have a bar strip if you don’t want it to be successful?). Some have postulated that staggering (pun intended again) closing times would reduce problems, but I only see it as concentrating the problems in the end.
I think it would be best to not mandate any closing time. I happen to live on the main exit strip away from the club quarter. Friday and Saturday nights, or rather Saturday and Sunday mornings, are noticeably loud and raucous…but just at closing time. It doesn’t seem to matter whether the time is 1 a.m. or 2 a.m., closing time creates upheaval. If individual establishments were allowed to set closing times and times for last call, and were required to provide minimum levels of security staffing, then there would never be a rush, a bottleneck of drunks, all leaving together en masse with whatever police and security are on duty overwhelmed by their numbers. In truth not mandating a closing time would even cause some patrons to go home earlier as there would be no target to hit in terms of lasting to closing time. If you begin to tire 12:45 and closing time is 1 a.m. you stay ’til closing, if closing time is 4 a.m. you leave at 12:45 because the target is unreachable.
What the juice bar example and the club district issue have in common is the fact that the point of political leadership is to appear to be “doing something” in order to ensure that whatever bad things happen the blame can be deflected. In both cases the opportunity to create a more vibrant culture (albeit low culture) for people who want it is lost and what the city tends to be left with is just as many problems to deal with (or even more problems in the case of the concentrated closing time) but none of the cultural advantages that the concentrated population of cities can provide. It is throwing the baby out with the bath water, and it is unwise.
(As an aside, if the “Entertainment District” is to survive should the proposed MGM Casino come to town the establishments there are going to have to be allowed to stay open much later than 1 or 2 a.m.)