The facing side of LBJ Drive at Hopkins Street on a weekend night on the downtown San Marcos square. Staff photo.
By BILL PETERSON
The first two months of 2 a.m. bar closings in San Marcos have apparently resulted in the downtown bars becoming more popular with a wider audience, but without causing too much trouble.
Of course, that’s why the city started allowing 2 a.m. bar closings on May 22, right after the majority of Texas State students went home for the summer. City officials said they wanted to give the hours a try before the city fills up again.
Now that the students are soon to return, though, San Marcos Police Department (SMPD) Chief Howard Williams has his eye out for a new set of concerns.
Williams invited local bar owners and managers to police headquarters last week to discuss some procedures and potential problems when students return for classes, which start again in late August. Though Williams said he doesn’t expect big trouble, he said it’s his job to anticipate problems.
Anecdotally, the crowds on the downtown square have been a little older this summer. While the nightclubs report that the summer receipts are, at least, respectable for this time of year, bar staffers have often noted that some of the crowd is a little tougher.
“The guys are telling me they don’t feel there has been a great increase in call loads,” Williams said. “The only thing they’re telling me is that when they do get calls at 2 a.m., the people they find are a lot more drunk than at midnight. But we can’t quantify that.”
Chase Stapp, SMPD Nightwatch Commander, told the bar owners and managers that in the few fights he has addressed this summer, he has noted more patrons from Seguin, New Braunfels and other surrounding cities. Stapp said he didn’t know if those he has encountered are gang members, but there’s no question that the nightlife in San Marcos has become more attractive to people in surrounding towns that are further from Austin and San Antonio.
“We’re definitely noticing several more out-of-towners enjoying our bar scene at night,” Stapp said.
Police and bar owners are concerned about whether the later hours might attract gang activity, and what that possibility means when the students return to San Marcos. Gangs aside, though, the police are on the lookout for the difference on the street wrought by slightly older crowds and people from other cities.
“One of the things that concerns us is we’re not sure how these crowds are going to mix with the college students,” Williams said. “That’s an unknown.”
Two downtown clubs, Dillingers and Waterdogs, have recently discontinued their policies of allowing 18-and-up admissions. With the crowds coming to the square on some nights, bar staffers say it’s not worth the headaches to deal with less mature patrons who can’t legally drink, anyway.
The college crowd, alone, has long been a focus for law enforcement, especially where the bars are concerned. A representative from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) said officers will be out in force to “dry fake IDs up” during the first several weeks of school. Williams said he will be sending more officers through the bars during the heavy nights, not so much to watch how the bars conduct business, but to take note of the patrons. Williams said he also will add “power shifts” to work the 10 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. time frame.
“When these kids come back into town, you’re going to be seeing us around,” Williams told the bar owners and managers.
Williams said he’s generally pleased with the level of cooperation the police receive from the downtown bars. Allan Shy, who has interests in three downtown bars, said he’s always glad when the downtown patrol takes a walk through his crowd, just as a reminder. Another bar manager said it helps greatly to reduce carelessness among bar patrons just to have a cruiser sitting visibly at a street corner.
The city went to 2 a.m. bar closings after voters overwhelmingly approved the change in the November 2008 election. Before May, bars in San Marcos closed at midnight every night except for Saturday, when they closed at 1 a.m.