A Noble Street business was recently cited for allegedly violating state law on serving alcohol outside, but city officials say confusion over Anniston's drinking regulations is likely to blame.
Rack and Roll Billiards, a restaurant and pool hall on Noble Street, was fined $300 for allegedly serving alcohol outdoors, Dean Argo, a spokesman for the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, said Tuesday. Argo didn't know the exact date of the fine but said it happened in recent weeks.
Argo said an ABC investigator was patrolling with Anniston police when officers spotted a group of people drinking on the sidewalk outside the pool hall. Police cited those residents for public intoxication, Argo said, while the state inspector fined the pool hall. Attempts to reach Rack and Roll’s owner for comment Tuesday were unsuccessful.
“They received a civil ticket,” Argo said of the fine. “They can pay it and be done with it, or they can contest it.”
City officials say the citation is a sign the city needs to do a better job of explaining the rules for the downtown entertainment district, where the city years ago made moves to relax rules on drinking downtown.
“They didn't do anything wrong,” Anniston City Councilman Jay Jenkins said Tuesday. “They just had patrons that stepped outside.”
At a council meeting last week, Jenkins said he'd heard from a handful of restaurant patrons who'd been cited after stepping outside for a smoke, beer in hand. (He didn't mention Rack and Roll by name, though Argo said the Rack and Roll citation was the only recent one on Noble Street.)
The City Council in 2016 agreed to declare parts of Noble and 15th streets to be a downtown entertainment district, where some restrictions on serving alcohol could be relaxed.
In most cities, city planner Toby Bennington said, people can walk from establishment to establishment within an entertainment district carrying a drink. Anniston was more conservative, allowing only “franchise areas” on the sidewalk near a bar or restaurant where diners could take drinks if they wanted.
But to get that franchise area approved, city officials say, the bar must go to the city and ABC with an application and a plan.
Argo said that rule is in part for the city's protection.
“If a minor gets served, or if someone drinks then gets into an accident, the city could be held liable if that happens on the right of way,” he said.
Bennington said he's not aware of anyone actually requesting a license to do that.
In 2017, the city tried to get the Legislature to pass a bill that would restaurants to set up “parklets” at or near their premises where alcohol could be served outside. Bennington said city officials worked to create parklet handbook that explained the proposed parklet rules in great detail. But that bill failed, in part because of an end-of-session filibuster inspired by a dispute over legislative redistricting.
The City Council discussed the Rack and Roll situation last week, but took no action. City officials said they hope downtown restaurants will apply for franchise-area status if they do want to allow patrons to drink outside.
“The next step is convince the business owners that are interested in this to do what they need to do to get approval for a franchise area,” Bennington said.