Well they’re packed pretty tight in here tonight.
Don’t give us none of your aggravation
We had it with your discipline
Saturday night’s alright for fighting
Get a little action in
Saturday, Saturday, Saturday
Saturday, Saturday, Saturday
Saturday night’s alright
The lyrics to Elton John‘s song “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” describe what has often been a typical Saturday night in T-Town on football game days. Of course, things in 2020 are a little different than conditions in previous years. Due to the Coronavirus epidemic, attendance at Bryant-Denny Stadium has been cut to only about 20% of its typical 100,000 fans. The result is that smaller crowds have lined up on Saturday night near campus bars. Social distancing or mask wearing for most of the bar patrons has not been observed.
The Alabama Beverage Control Board had only just decided to lift restrictions on operating hours for bars on September 28th, 2020. The 11pm cutoff had been removed. AP reported, “Originally intended to keep down crowds and encourage social distancing, the rule also reduced revenues and limited tips for servers. ABC Administrator Mac Gipson said the restriction on operating hours was a ‘business killer’ for bars.”
When such late hours of operation exist, combined with the presence of inebriated youth (many of whom are underaged drinkers), bar fights seem to be inevitable. Such a pattern has existed in T-Town for many years. During one National Championship game an underaged drinker who had been in a fight at Innisfree Irish Pub was pursued by Tuscaloosa Police officers, who drug him off the roof of a duplex that was two blocks away. Alabama football players have been involved in fights and even shot at bars, as detailed in a ESPN story. The business license of the High Tide bar was revoked after a shooting had occured on a Tuesday night, as WBRC‘s Joshua Gauntt reported. There are also endless accounts of late night and early morning marauding drunks in Tuscaloosa’s Historical District as Kelly Fitts‘s 2014 op-ed referred to.
CBS/42‘s Tim Reid wrote about how the city of Tuscaloosa planned to keep an eye on bar crowds during the city’s first Alabama football game. He quoted Tuscaloosa Council member Lee Busby‘s admonition: “Get ready to do without your license because we are going to suspend them on the second offense.”
Reid wrote that Innisfree Irish Pub‘s Manager Nick Snead said that all of his staff would wear face masks and observe the 50% occupancy limits. Snead said, “We just want a level playing ground, we want every bar around town to be the same. If you’re not operating at 50% then you should get in trouble. You know, just because one bar is not doing good why should we all be punished.”
There were large crowds observed after Saturday’s football game at all of the bars near campus. Tuscaloosa Council Member Lee Busby said that there were less than a dozen citations to bars for overcrowding, according to 6/WBRC‘s Lauren Jackson. She reported that “only one bar was temporarily shut down for the night due to a second strike for over capacity.”
The Tuscaloosa Police Department has arrest records that include the ages of those involved in any altercation.
When Oxford, Mississippi cracked down on under-aged drinkers, Chaning Green in the Daily Journal reported on its Chief of Police’s testimony during a discussion of a proposed ordinance.
Oxford Police Chief Joey East stood before the board to answer questions and provide additional insight to the process. He talked about how there have been over 100 charges, not arrested but charges, that have happened since the students returned. The majority of which happened on the Square, in this Downtown District.
There is a 19-year-old college student currently in the ICU being treated for severe alcohol poisoning, after spending an evening binge drinking and being served in bars on the Square.
Two young women were recently sexually assaulted in two businesses on the Square. One of the businesses didn’t have security cameras and the other one’s cameras were broken.
East said he and the rest of his department are tired of running into these issues over and over again and that it’s past time something was done about it.
If T-Town ever get serious about enforcing its codes on underaged drinking, perhaps there will be similar testimony presented before its Council?
The city’s occupancy restrictions were established, because of the impossibility of actually enforcing “social distancing.” In many areas of the country bars are closed or are restricted to take-out service. Tuscaloosa actually has rules that are less restrictive currently than those in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOLA.com‘s Jessica Williams wrote that bars in the Crescent City are only permitted to have takeout service in go-cups. Indoor occupancy is limited to no more than 50 people. Tuscaloosa allows as any as 150.
On September 26th, 2020, images posted on social media of a crowd at Rhythm and Brews showed crowds who were not socially distancing or wearing masks, Tuscaloosa‘s Mayor Walt Maddox said that several bars had exceeded their occupancy limits and said that there would be more enforcement. Only a couple of establishments reportedly received citations as a consequence.
A 2015 report in SB Nation by Steven Godfrey and Matt Brown said that “The Tuscaloosa Police Department spent $544,459.50 on overtime pay to police all seven Alabama home games in 2014.” Some of the expense, which should be far greater in 2020, doubtlessly is related to the activities on football weekends at campus bars.
It is regrettable that under the current situation, where more enforcement than ever is called for, that the city seems to feel helpless to find a way to cope with the problems associated with bars. If occupancy limits are the only tool in its arsenal, then perhaps the city should further reduce the number of people allowed into bars? It could even follow the example of New Orleans and allow no more than fifty people in bars.