Aug 192013
 

“To-go cups or not to-go cups, that is the question.
Whether ‘tis nobler in a bar to provide cups for patrons
to carry their alcoholic beverage out into the street,
Or to take arms against a sea of bureaucrats and busybodies,
and by opposing, end them?”

Owen Courreges

For those who have been living under a rock this past week, there has been a debate in local media over a perceived attack on a venerable New Orleans institution.  I am speaking, of course, of to-go cups offered by bars.  The fracas is over whether there is an actual crackdown on to-go cups, or whether this is just a tempest in a teapot (Spoiler alert: It’s not).

It began when a local food blog, Blackened Out, tweeted that the city was prohibiting to-go cups with virtually every new license for an Alcoholic Beverage Outlet (ABO).   In other words, we’re losing to-go cups by attrition, a message difficult to gainsay.

Other stories followed.  Where Y’at Magazine published an article comically suggesting that people could be facing arrest for simply walking down the street with a to-go cup.  Writing for Vice Magazine, journalist Michael P. Welch responded with an article entitled “Defending the Daiquiri and New Orleans’ Go Cup Culture” in which he recounted a number of recent battles over to-go cups.

Next, NOLA Defender replied with a piece of its own, deeming Welch’s article and others similar pieces “sensationalized.”  They noted that while there were a lot of bans on to-go cups, “there’s no citywide policy designed to target go-cups.”  NOLA Defender proceeded to argue that bans on to-go cups are not a recent phenomenon, and then started clapping and braying like a trained seal in a show of deference towards city officials (ok, I may have made that last part up).

Gambit Weekly also weighed in, publishing an article tut-tutting the whole debate, arguing that the issue was limited and suggesting that it only arose when an ABO was hauled before the board or a conditional use permit was being applied for, such as in a “primarily residential area” (which is not quite accurate bars are not allowed as conditional uses in any residential zoning districts).

While there has been a great deal of sensationalism in reporting on the gradual demise of to-go cups, it has primarily consisted of misstatements suggesting that the city is banning to-go cups altogether, or that you could be arrested for having beer in an plastic cup on the street.   No changes to open container laws are in the offing.  Rather, this is yet another front in the ongoing war that pits ABOs against the city and neighborhood groups.

However, just because we’re not discussing proposed legislation doesn’t mean that we should accept the city at face value when it says “move along, there’s nothing to see here” like some cop working crowd control.  The truth is that neighborhood groups have gotten increasingly aggressive in their demands on ABOs, and the city’s enforcement efforts against ABOs have gotten far more severe.  There is movement here, even if it isn’t a united front.

(cartoon by Owen Courreges for UptownMessenger.com)

(cartoon by Owen Courreges for UptownMessenger.com)

While a great deal of the problem here concerns neighborhood organizations, i.e., meddling busybodies, it is worth observing that they have been abetted by the city.  It’s widely recognized that the City Attorney’s office has been clamping down on ABOs and really going on the offensive.  The way enforcement works, aggressive prosecution of ABOs can result in de facto restrictions.  The laundry list of remedies imposed on ABOs almost always includes restrictions on to-go cups.  Put bluntly, restricting or banning to-go cups seems to be a “go-to” restriction for the city.

With a handful of venues, the neighbors have pushed to-go cup restrictions that fall short of a ban, but seem calculated to remove the utility of to-go cups.  First, they require that the to-cups be specially designed with the ABO’s logo, a very expensive proposition.  Secondly, they typically include some restriction on patrons loitering around the ABO, one of the major reasons patrons use to-go cups to begin with. Even if the ABO decides to keep to-go cups with these types of restrictions, they could lose them later if any littering is alleged.

The reason for the dislike of to-go cups is supposedly about littering, but I think that’s largely a pretext.  It’s more about people who want their neighborhoods to be more sedate with less night life.  The idea of people being able to be outside with an alcoholic beverage doesn’t sit well with them.  They don’t stand much of a chance of revising open container laws, so this is their fallback.

That’s not New Orleans as it exists, but that’s the New Orleans they want to make.  I’m sure they have less a problem with allowing a few small entertainment districts to survive, if barely, but they don’t favor neighborhood bars and they want everyone on a short leash.

Thus, there really is a story here, but it was just ignored over the past few years.   When something happens incrementally without a fixed point of reference, it takes time before sufficient evidence comes to light and the truth is revealed.  Enough time has passed that we can now say that new bars are, in practice, simply not allowed to give to-go cups in the City of New Orleans.  It’s also clear that this is part of a wider movement against our night life.

What we need to be asking ourselves is whether this is something all of us want, or whether it’s being pushed on us by a minority – a minority that doesn’t want to let New Orleans be New Orleans.

Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for UptownMessenger.com on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.

  35 Responses to “Owen Courreges: Are go-cups about to go?”

  1. When you stop have the culture of Go-cups, people stop saying, “Where Y’at” and hello on the streets. It will be a less friendly town.

    • Statement August 20, 2013 City Council Addresses To-Go Cup Regulation The City Council states, “We write to clarify a misconception that there is a collective or concerted effort to ban to-go cups. For over ten years, the City Planning Commission and City Council have adopted provisos regulating to-go cups on a case by case basis when the requesting businesses are located in or adjacent to residential districts. These provisos protect nearby residents from unnecessary trash in front of their homes by patrons of restaurants and bars. But again, there is no blanket prohibition of to-go cups. For example, the recently created St. Claude Arts and Cultural Overlay District (from Press St. to Poland St.) regulations allow newly permitted businesses to have to-go cups as long as the name of the business is printed on the cup. In other cases, it has been determined that a to-go cup prohibition is better suited for the surrounding neighborhood. It is not unusual or irrational to place a provision on a new alcoholic beverage business that is seeking a conditional use so that it may sell alcohol next to or in residential neighborhoods.”

  2. Agree 100%! These ‘neighborhood groups’ act more like Homeowners Association’s every day in that they are ‘led’ by busy bodies whose goals are to impose their idea of utopia on the rest oc us. By default, anyone with a live-and-let-live approach will not join these associations. Not to sound like a cantakerous old timer but these whiners need to move to Metairie if that’s the kind of neighborhood they like.

    • 100% agree. It’s a minority of neighborhood “leaders” who are pushing this without many of us ever knowing…

    • Homeowners’ Associations and the general public only get to (try to) impose their idea of utopia if you are seeking some variance from the requirements of the law, If you are not asking for something previously prohibited by law, you need not even speak to those whiners.

  3. Almost any city regulation, and especially those related to litter, can be criticized as trivial, and enforcement is problematic, Personally, I would be pleased to see more restrictions on go cups and open containers. For anyone living near a bar, the mess is annoying. On the other hand, I think alcohol should be served everywhere. After the stories on prostitution on Tulane, I wanted to support Avery’s, but you can’t get a drink to go with your shrimp remoulade. Apparently, it’s easier to get a bj on Tulane than a drink. Awhile back, I went to the now closed French restaurant on Magazine. The waiter said they had no liquor license, but, no problem, I could go next door to Theo’s pizza and buy a bottle and bring it back to drink with my onion soup. There is a lot of crazy regulation in the city.

    • Deux,

      I think regulating the litter itself, i.e., requiring ABOs to pick up trash within a certain distance of their doors and provide cans, should be sufficient. Regulating the to-go cups directly is overkill and frankly an attack on a much-beloved aspect of our city.

      I do agree that we should be more open get an alcohol license, but thanks to zoning and the expensive, we’re not likely to see that anytime soon.

    • If we’re really talking about combating litter in Uptown, let’s direct anger away from the innocent ‘go-cup’ and start with Richards Disposal. The regular trash pickup is a way bigger culprit for litter in my neighborhood than the occasional ‘go-cup.’ And unlike go-cups, I’m forced to pay the City every month for this company to litter our neighborhood. Does anyone else notice this?

      Defend the Daiquiri! (and go-cup)

  4. Thanks for the shoutout. I dig your columns. However, I first wrote about new go-cup restrictions for VICE back in March 2013, as part of my coverage regarding tightening of music ordinances. Then last week as I was turning in my second piece on the issue, local bloggers started quoting my older piece. Here’s the first piece on new go-cup restrictions, from Vice Magazine, March 2013: http://www.vice.com/read/neither-big-nor-easy-new-orleanss-war-on-music

  5. Let’s just start bringing our own go-cups. I’m sure we all have a few plastic Mardi Gras cups hanging around. :p

  6. Deux,

    That’s not quite true. If businesses don’t play ball with some associations, they might trump up complaints and it doesn’t take much for an ABO to be hauled out. Even if the risk isn’t immediate, many businesses feel that unless they have a good relationship with neighborhood groups they risk having their license pulled at some point given the power the associations have.

    • Can you offer any examples of trumped up charges against a licensed ABO?

      • +1 to Deux amours. Yes, there have been neighborhood association busybodies who are hassling legit businesses in misguided attempts to create Mayberry neighborhoods in the middle of Uptown…but there have also been bars who happily serve hundreds and hundreds of go cups at 1 AM who know full well what impact that has on the neighborhood but just don’t give a crap as long as they’re making money.

        This is an issue where every case is unique and broad generalizations are useless. Sensationalist commentaries like this article seem intended to create more heat than light.

        • will_k2,

          Each case is unique in some regard, but I still don’t see why restrictions on to-go cups are immediately considered instead of just a litter abatement program. Even in cases where an establishment hasn’t even reopened, like Jimmy’s, to-go cup restrictions are immediately imposed. Likewise with Freret — they just decided to ban them from the get-go. As I said, it’s difficult to gainsay that to-go cups have become a flashpoint issue whereas before they generally were not.

          Yes, there is some nuance here with nuisance bars, but nuisance bars are a general problem and this issue is clearly broader than that, IMO. I do want to hold peoples’ feet to the fire on this, so let’s just say it’s about both heat and light.

          • I think getting into specifics helps the case you are trying to make quite a bit. I don’t see why Jimmy’s or Freret bars in general should have a pre-emptive ban (Tucks being an exception, as it has something of a spotty track record).

      • Deux,

        I don’t want to name names, but I’ve personally heard from owners about harassment. Also, the city/state stings in which they sent minors into bars led to some pretty flimsy charges last year against Witt’s Inn and Dos Jefe’s.

  7. Good lord Owen- it’s the middle of August and you fiddle and scribble while we burn a football field every 38 minutes. This reads like a Sometime Picayune Tabloid reach for clicks and comments.
    Sure could have used your help and input when this was trudged drudged, and gone through with many many meetings.
    + We had Friar Tucks, but most of the passionately un-informed won’t know that back story, so I’m about to be hit with verbal knee jerk rocks thrown by cute alias’s.

    Damn I’m dumb, but I do have a point- as below is the loophole I hope end this “Dirty TP”- time should be spent on healthy topics like getting NOPD to 1200, Egypt, or ? Not this “DTP”

    Go to-
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sharpie_%28marker%29
    and make sure the cup is dry before the logo goes on.
    Best from Freret,
    Andy Brott

    • From what I heard (and could not confirm) Councilwoman Palmer suggested the sharpie as a loophole. Thing is, that would only “work” at the bars that were given the option of refraining from go-cups, or else buying go-cups bearing your name (a financial measure meant to discourage go-cups, to be sure). I would also think in an hypothetical situation where maybe you were asked about your cup by a police officer, and you showed them how you’d written “St Roch Tavern” on the side…considering our police force, that sounds like asking for more trouble than you would with a blank cup.

      Anyway, there is a law that says we can drink outside–a law, essentially, preventing anyone from telling us we can’t drink outside. Who cares where the booze comes from? And McDonalds creates just as much litter.

    • Andy.

      I answered you in a separate comment.

  8. maybe the” live and let live “people should join all the neighborhood groups and voice their opinions, loudly.

  9. Anyone want to start a “Save The To-Go Cup” petition? It is part of our cultural history, a long standing New Orleans tradition and part and parcel of what makes this place so unique. I agree 100% that if you don’t like the atmosphere in the City, Metry is callin’ you.

  10. Andy,

    I was addressing a current issue that I care about, not reaching out for clicks. I’m sure lots of issues are hammered out at neighborhood meetings, but the fact that these organizations have the power and the will to strong-arm people doesn’t exactly make me want to be a part of their efforts.

    The “sharpie” solution is a poor one. These provisos usually state that an ABO’s logo, not just a scribbled letter or name, is supposed to be printed on the cups. Using a sharpie on each and every cup would be labor-intensive in any case (you’d have to get employees to either write on the cups on the fly, or unstack them individually and do it advance), and it would be virtually impossible if you’re talking about recreating an entire logo. It’s not a minor burden, and it’s simply not justified if the ABO controls litter — which is supposedly the real issue.

    As for your other (supposedly more important) issues:

    – How to help NOPD get to 1200 officers by years end? and 1500 by 2015?

    We don’t need that many officers for our population. We already have more officers per capita than comparable cities. I’ve said this in multiple columns, including one that specifically addressed the issue of alleged understaffing at the NOPD.

    – How to help John Barry? or is this lawsuit the best book PR ever? a super big just kidding on that…

    The lawsuit is interesting, although I’m waiting for some progress on the case before I weigh in. This involves a lot of issues and I frankly wouldn’t know where to begin at this stage.

    – And lastly- scorpion awareness, read they are out of control in 1 part of town.

    I’ve written quite a bit about OPP recently. Writing about it again to make jokes about an alleged scorpion infestation would, without more, really just be about the clicks. I know it’s also about overspending by Gusman, but unless there’s more to point to it’s still not a massive expense. The general narrative is still that OPP is overpopulated and underfunded, even if Gusman could manage funds better.

  11. I think the underlining issue here is that people want a “safe” place to live. It’s easy to attack music and alcohol…it’s difficult to address the real issues (lack of education, gangs, drugs, poverty…) I guess that’s why the CAVES (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) exist…to attack the “easier” stuff. They leave the hard stuff to the rest of us…

  12. “Secondly, they typically include some restriction on patrons loitering around the ABO, one of the major reasons patrons use to-go cups to begin with.”

    I may have missed it in the comments but i’ve heard it repeatedly asserted (possibly even by yourself) that restrictions on loitering are actually unconstitutional. Would you care to comment on that?

    • Craig,

      Restrictions on “loitering” per se are unconstitutional since that can describe almost anything (i.e., it’s too vague to describe criminal conduct), but we’re talking about consent agreements and good neighbor agreements here, and not in the context of criminal law but in the context of alcohol licensing. It’s different as a legal matter. There is, frankly, a good question of whether a bar can actually prevent people from congregating outside and whether that can legitimately be regulated, but those issues never seem to be argued here. They really have ABOs over a barrel.

  13. I’m probably not the first with this theory but I’m going to go ahead and say it. These people trying to shut down live music and restrict drinking in the streets? They fall into two categories. 1) The suburban transplants who want to bring their white picket fence mentality from their old home they got bored with; and 2) the real estate speculators who are trying to boost their own property values by making the environment more ‘sanitized’ so they can flip their property quicker and at a heftier profit, probably selling it to more suburban transplants.

  14. I just noticed the Owen’s cartoon, The reveler has a cup but is not wearing a piece on his hip, although I guess it could be concealed under his tunic (or is that a hoodie?). Quaere: if you must go into a bar un-armed, is it permitted to carry your weapon as you walk the street with your go cup from the bar?

  15. I don’t recall any to-go cup provisos dating back over ten years. That’s not to say there weren’t any, but I’ve never heard of them before about five or six years ago, and now they come up whenever an ABO gets brought up, and are presumptively included with any overlay district.

    • Agreed, its definitely something that needs to be the public’s front agenda regarding the dulling of culture here. It’s how the powers that be slowly and quietly chip away at uniqueness. I was just forwarding the statement today. I should have commented that it needs to be the RARE exception to flat out disallow and there needs to be specific reasoning not just, (we are worried) . If a place demonstrates it can’t keep its blocks clean then it would be a great way to punish by taking this away. I bet places would clean up a lot more if they thought they could lose the ability to go “togo” I don’t really have a problem with the logo having to be on it except that it probably makes the trash look even trashier. Still I think that frankly it’s part of what makes New Orleans great that you can get a drink to go most anywhere and that should continue. It hasn’t happened to me yet but I think I would be floored if I asked for a to go cup and was refused. It would feel like a different town and be quite a bummer. This town shouldn’t be about bummers. That’s anti NOLA.

  16. Deux,

    I believe it is, so long as your BAC never gets above .05. I don’t see how you’d get a drink from a bar without going into the bar first, though.

    • I think a lot of the go cup trade is people hanging around cars to smoke, and they go back and forth to the bar.

      • Deux,

        Exactly, which means that restrictions on to-go cups may make bars feel like they can’t go non-smoking. If they want to focus on litter, that’s where the focus needs to be — on whether the bar cleans up the immediate surrounding area and provides trash cans for patrons. If they do that, I don’t see how any further regulations are reasonable, no matter what the city council says.

  17. The more I think of this, the less I think of this as an important part of New Orleans culture. Carrying a drink at a street festival or on Bourbon yes, but what’s the deal with drinking on the street? We’re not talking sidewalk cafes are we? I guess the overflow from the bar is festive in some places, but that would be something to limit in residential neighborhoods. What I see is more just people taking out a drink for the ride home, or to enjoy while smoking in the car. There’s nothing particularly New Orleans about that.

    • Deux,

      I disagree on that. I typically see people walk between bars with to-go cups, walk home, or hang around in front of the bar (often to smoke, if the bar is non-smoking or if they simply worry about bothering non-smoking patrons). It is a unique part of New Orleans culture; most cities don’t allow people to walk around with a beer. It’s something I think we should guard against encroachments of.

      I also think we should be wary of clamping down on cultural quirks just because we don’t personally participate in them. I mean, I’ve never been in a second-line myself, but I don’t like it when the city makes trouble for them.

  18. I have read at great length the rules and restrictions that the city council and the neighborhood association has foisted upon Jimmy’s for re-opening. One specifically states that he must have go-cups with his logo printed on them. I’m sure it a move to see what kind of litter is being generated by the bar….

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