Downstairs Sports Bar owner Robert Sweet will close his establishment June through August due to his liquor license not being renewed June 1.
Sweet said he plans to renew his liquor license in September after implementing the guidelines provided in the agreement made with Whitewater City Attorney Wallace McDonnell. Some of those requirements include installing surveillance cameras and an ID scanner.
“It’s done, it’s behind me,” Sweet said. “[I] just have to move forward. [I] got a lot of support from the people that came down and said ‘[don’t] worry, we’ll be back.’ I was happily surprised. A bunch of great kids come down here.”
Sweet’s liquor license was decided to be non-renewed in June for his establishment, located at 204 W. Main St., after seven citations for underage people in the bar since May 2011.
“Whoever was at the front door probably didn’t do the best job in the world,” Sweet said referring to why so many underage people were let in his bar.
Police Chief Lisa Otterbacher said underage drinking in Whitewater bars ebbs and flows.
“We’re a university town so there are definitely going to be folks that want to go out and drink,” Otterbacher said. “We do undercover operations for that reason. We want to keep Whitewater a very safe community.”
Several bars in downtown Whitewater do many things to keep underage people off their premises. The Hawks Nest co-owners Matt Golden and Clint Evans said they have been trying to rid their bar’s association with minors after taking over last fall.
“I came into it pretty blind,” Golden said. “Within about a week, we found out that this was probably the biggest underage bar in Walworth County.”
Evans and Pumpers Mitchell’s general manager Curt Patrick said each bar offers incentives to their bouncers by offering money for each fake ID they take.
“That kind of gives them a little initiative to do their job and it keeps the insurance on my behalf to know that they’re doing their job when I’m paying out $50-100 every night,” Patrick said. “I’m OK with that. I’d rather spend $100 per night than lose my liquor license, rack up tickets or have the liability on my shoulders.”
Golden and Evans said they installed security cameras a few months ago to help prove to police their bouncers are checking IDs if a problem occurs.
Patrick said the owner needs to make it clear to his staff that he or she does not want underage people in their bar and hire people he or she trusts and knows well.
Otterbacher said the police currently walk through bars to make sure people are making wise decisions.
“Us watching and looking for somebody that maybe looks a little bit younger than the average dog is always a healthy place to be too,” Otterbacher said. “We’ve made citations to various taverns throughout the city, so not one particular one hits our radar.”
Every year, the police department has a meeting with Whitewater bar owners to make sure everyone is on the same page, Otterbacher said.
Golden, Evans and Patrick, all in their mid-20s, said they believe underage drinking in Whitewater bars has been a problem recently and in past years.
Golden and Evans attended Winona State University, where they said underage drinking was a lot less prevalent in bars.
“Comparing this town to Winona where we went to school, there’s a lot more underage drinking here,” Golden said. “That’s just what I see. I think it is an issue here in Whitewater and the way I would look at is the city should be glad we walked into this bar and for doing what we’re doing.
Evans said the fake IDs in Whitewater look a lot more realistic than Winona.
“Some of them are really good,” Evans said. “I know that some of them order it and that they’re very expensive. They get the fake IDs that have their picture on it and are 100 percent legit. That’s when it gets really tough. That stuff is really hard to curb.”
But Otterbacher said Whitewater has great people in charge of the bars.
“Our bar owners are good people,” Otterbacher said. “I think they run good bars. We also have good open discussions [about] what’s going well, what’s not [and] how can we partner together to make sure that we have a safe environment for kids to go to.”
With the expensive citations bar owners receive when underage people are caught on their premises, Patrick gave one piece of advice for minors trying to enter Whitewater bars.
“Laws are laws and they need to be followed,” Patrick said. “Don’t get pissed when we take your ID.”
Otterbacher agreed that laws need to be obeyed.
“Don’t drink until you’re 21,” Otterbacher said. “You can disagree with the law, you can not like the law. People might think that 25 [mph] is too slow in town but the law is the law, whether you agree with it or not.”