In 2000, after the chilling carjacking slayings of two young people, some city councilors proposed rolling back the weekend closing time for bars and clubs to 1 am — even though none of the assailants had been out on the town. After that idea faded, critics unsuccessfully targeted the under-21 crowd, an integral source for revenue for a live music venue like Lupo’s. The next effort was increased regulation of nightlife through a new licensing category — the N license — that seemed targeted against Michael Kent, the owner of Club Diesel and the Complex, the two largest dance clubs in downtown and the Jewelry District.
Now, with critics still unsatisfied, the Providence Police Department has intensified the heat on Club Diesel, asserting that the popular dance club constitutes a “disorderly house.” Depending on the outcome of its ongoing hearing process, the Board of Licenses could impose a range of sanctions, ranging from a fine to the revocation of the club’s entertainment and liquor licenses. And although the department’s approach seems to embody the concerns of groups like the Jewelry District Association and the Providence Foundation, Kent has deep enough pockets to wage a sustained fight, and he vows to take the city to court if he doesn’t like the outcome.
In many respects, the nightlife situation has changed little in the last six years. Providence deserves vibrant nightlife, and the city is safer and more interesting when more people go out at night. Using a broad brush to punish the majority of law-abiding patrons, because of the behavior of relatively few people, would be a big mistake. Most importantly, the solution should rest in doing a better job of managing the headaches that invariably come with nightlife, rather than using a neo-Prohibitionist approach.
Nightlife critics call the tune
Sounding quite reasonable, Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline talks about the nightlife situation as a matter of finding the right balance: “Ensur[ing] that Provi¬dence is a vibrant and exciting city with a diverse variety of nightlife venues and live music venues, and that the management of those businesses be done in a responsible way that ensures the health and safety of residents and visitors to the downtown.” The mayor expresses support for the concept of an 18-hour downtown — “A city that is alive for 18 hours of the day [with] res¬taurants, clubs, and pedestrian activity.”
Dig a bit deeper, though, and the city seems to lack any real plan for achieving this desired balance beyond clamping down on Diesel, in part by using some pretty dubious arguments. (Disclosure: Diesel and Lupo’s are among the nightlife establishments that advertise in the Phoenix.)
Beyond what happens inside a club, club owners should be responsible, says Cicilline, for “activities which are reasonably foreseeable, based on the management of the operation of their business.” Fair enough. But it remains subject to debate how much responsibility the club bears for episodes like a January 6 incident, in which an 18-year-old patron who had left the club was stabbed in the neck with a broken beer bottle in a parking lot owned by the Providence Journal, supposedly after a snowball fight.