Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Council, experts consider effects of tightening Evanston liquor laws (news analysis)

The success of two proposed ordinances trying to curb underage drinking in Evanston depends on how well they’re enforced, public policy experts said.

The Evanston City Council is considering two methods to keep people under 21 from drinking alcohol. One would kick underage people out of restaurants with class B1 liquor licenses after midnight.

There are at least five class B1 restaurants in Evanston, including The Keg of Evanston, 810 Grove St., and 1800 Club on Sherman Avenue.

The other ordinance would raise the minimum fine for underage drinking, using a fake ID, or violating any other part of the Evanston liquor code from $200 to $500.

“The threat of enforcement of this kind of law is significant,” said George Hacker, director of the Alcohol Policies Project at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “Students and employees have to have a substantial fear of being caught.”

The midnight plan might be too complicated because identifying and kicking out every underage customer at midnight might become difficult for restaurant employees and police to enforce.

Joel Epstein, consulting attorney to the Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention, said most communities pass laws to control drinking but then fail to follow through.

If Evanston wants to keep underage drinkers from bars, the city needs to make sure police enforce the law regularly enough that potential offenders are scared off, he said. Epstein also suggested targeting known underage drinking hubs.

“Stop harassing the students and go after the rogue offenders,” he said. “You know where the problem is.”

Although some aldermen said they do not want to single out businesses at the Monday City Council meeting, Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) said businesses need to be held accountable.

“It’s time that some responsibility be given to the licensees,” she said. “There’s nothing good about underage drinking. Nothing.”

Police and aldermen are actively discussing how police will handle enforcement issues, such as clearing underage persons from bars at midnight, Ald. Cheryl Wollin (1st) said.

But Wollin said there’s no need to target B1 restaurants. She cited a recent incident at Las Palmas, 817 University Place, where several students were ticketed for underage drinking. Las Palmas is not in class B1.

Both Hacker and Epstein said the best way to discourage underage drinking is by changing the perception of drinking.

Eliminating incentives, such as “ladies drink free” and “two-for-one nights” at bars near campus has worked in other college towns. The NU Directions program at Nebraska University in Lincoln, Neb., is an excellent example of a successful attempt to decrease drinking, Hacker said.

The number of Nebraska students who experienced five or more negative effects of drinking, such as forgetting what happened, falling behind in class, or driving drunk was at 34.2 percent in 1997. By 2003 the number dropped to 14.9 percent, according to a Harvard School of Public Health’s College Alcohol Study.

Linda Major, director of the NU Directions and of student involvement at the school, said driving underage drinkers away from bars can just lead them to drink in unsafe locations, but a well-applied fine could help discourage them to a degree.

First-year Medill graduate student Brian Sabin said neither method will achieve anything.

“The money thing would suck for anyone who wants to drink,” he said. “But I don’t foresee a group of frat boys sitting inside watching a movie Friday night because of a $500 fine.”

Students who want to drink will not stop because of a fine, he said. If caught, they will either beg their parents for more money or take out more loans, he added.

Weinberg junior Jessie Mathiason agreed and said the dollar amount of the fine doesn’t register in student’s minds.

“The fine is stupid because it’s not like students even really know or care what the fine is,” she said. “It’s just a concept of getting caught or not caught.”

Reach Elizabeth Gibson at [email protected].

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
Council, experts consider effects of tightening Evanston liquor laws (news analysis)