Anchorage bars could serve alcohol earlier in the morning under assemblyman’s proposal

Anchorage bars and restaurants would be allowed to serve alcohol earlier in the morning under a .

The assemblyman, Eric Croft, thinks the change could help tourism — and make the idea of easier for businesses to swallow.

“We’re about to ask the liquor industry to pony up some in this town for some of the costs of alcohol,” Croft said, describing his measure as a compromise.

Right now, city law prohibits restaurants and other drinking establishments from serving alcohol before 10 a.m. any day of the week. State law says alcohol can be served between 8 a.m. and 5 a.m. Cities, though, can adopt tighter rules.

Croft’s proposal would allow Anchorage bars and restaurants to start serving alcohol at 9 a.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. on Saturdays, Sundays and state holidays.

Package store hours would not change, nor would those for craft breweries, which operate under a separate set of rules.

Croft said he started thinking about the city’s rules on morning alcohol service this summer, when he had trouble finding a bar that was showing the World Cup soccer matches. (Bear Tooth eventually stepped up, he said.)

But Croft also said he had spoken to at least one Anchorage bar owner who said they would be more receptive to an alcohol tax if they were allowed to open earlier. Mayor Ethan Berkowitz put forward the tax proposal this month, the latest of several attempts to tax alcohol in the city’s history. Berkowitz says the 5 percent retail sales tax would raise millions for homelessness services and substance abuse treatment.

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Croft, who supports the tax, noted some “tension” between his proposal and the looming public debate about the damage alcohol has caused in the community. But he said bartenders and servers are trained to be responsible.

“Let’s make sure we have good providers that follow the rules, and on this, I don’t see huge harm,” Croft said.

The Assembly is scheduled to hold a public hearing Dec. 18 and decide whether to place the measure on the April 2019 ballot. Croft is among those in favor of it.

Croft said he does not plan to drop his earlier-hours proposal if the alcohol tax fails, however.

“I want to have the discussion together, but I don’t think I want to make it that much of a quid pro quo,” Croft said.

Croft said his proposal is largely aimed at tourists disembarking from early flights, cruises or the Alaska Railroad, as well as sports fans.

At the Peanut Farm, a popular sports bar and grill on the Old Seward Highway, ardent football fans regularly show up before 8 a.m. on Saturdays.

Brian Johnson, an assistant general manager, said his company is “on the fence” about the idea of being allowed to serve alcohol earlier. He said customers already come early for weekend games and just start ordering at 10 a.m., around halftime.

“We sell so much alcohol on Sundays anyhow … having people start drinking earlier is not necessarily better for them,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he did expect the change would slightly boost sales. At other times, though, it might cause more of a hassle for managers, he said.

Anchorage’s current hour restrictions date back to 1981, records show. Croft acknowledged there were reasons for it. He was growing up in the city then, he said: “There was some wild stuff.”

But Croft said there can be a balance. He said it makes sense if alcohol is taxed, like marijuana is, and the city makes sure that operators follow the rules.

His proposal is slated to be debated by the Assembly in the coming weeks.

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