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Last call at 4 a.m.? SF legislators renew push to keep bars open later

The bar at Chef Ho Chee Boon’s restaurant Empress by Boon on Grant Avenue in San Francisco’s Chinatown on Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. I Christina House, Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The party will go later and tolerance levels will be tested—for both drinkers and bartenders—in certain California cities if a resurrected bill from two San Francisco state legislators is approved.

State Sen. Scott Wiener and newly minted Assemblymember Matt Haney will introduce legislation Friday that would allow bars, nightclubs and restaurants—but not liquor stores—in “several major pilot cities” across California to continue serving drinks as late as 4 a.m. Current state law requires establishments serving alcoholic beverages to serve their last drink before 2 a.m. 

“Nightlife is part of our cities’ cultural heart, and we should give cities the flexible tools to make their nightlife as vibrant and world-class as possible,” Wiener said in a statement. “California’s one-size-fits-all approach to nightlife—requiring all alcohol sales to end at 2 am, whether in downtown LA or a rural small town—makes no sense. It’s time to allow cities that want to extend their nightlife the ability to do so.”

In 2018, Wiener pushed a similar bill, SB 905, to allow bars in the following California cities to extend their hours: San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, Sacramento, West Hollywood, Long Beach, Coachella, Cathedral City and Palm Springs. The new proposal would apply to those same cities.

SB 905 passed through both houses of the Legislature, but then-Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed it. In his decision, Brown wrote that “we have enough mischief from midnight to 2 (am).”

Assemblymember Haney noted in a statement that the pandemic has hurt all of California’s economy, “but nightlife has been especially hard hit.” 

“We’ve lost so many historic venues and bars, it is going to take years to rebuild,” he said. “We need to do everything we can to support and encourage this part of our culture and economy. Extending hours to 4am even a few days a week will save historic businesses, create thousands of jobs, and support arts, culture and community.”

The proposed bill, which is being sponsored by the City and County of San Francisco, would give the pilot cities the option to extend hours or stick with the current rules on closing time. Cities could also implement limited areas and days of the week if they so choose. Any plan would need to be submitted to Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) for approval, and community input and public notice would also be required. 

If passed, the bill would come up for a sunset review in five years.

A press conference to release more details on the proposal will be held Friday morning at Beaux, a popular gay bar in the Castro. Other people expected to speak at the event include: Honey Mahogany, a member of the STUD Collective drag group and newly announced candidate for District 6 supervisor; Maria Davis, owner of St. Mary’s Pub; and Ben Bleiman, a managing partner of Tonic Nightlife Group. 

Bleiman is also the president of the San Francisco Bar Alliance, which has advocated for the city’s nightlife industry throughout the pandemic. Wiener’s legislation appears to be a direct response to the hardships many small business owners in the bar industry have been facing since the shutdown in March 2020.