Philly lawmakers right to target stop-and-go nuisance bars

Councilwoman Cindy Bass (center) and supporters leave Kenny’s Seafood & Steaks. where you can buy booze but no seafood or steaks.

It would be nice if every corner bar was like the reputable Cheers establishment depicted on a long-gone TV show “where everybody knew your name, and they’re always glad you came.”

There’s a glut of neighborhood bars known as stop-and-gos in Philadelphia that are anything but reputable. Quite the opposite, these stores, delis, and gas stations that sell beer and liquor are nuisances where alcoholics hang out all day long into the evening and fights and other illegal behavior is likely to occur.

To illustrate the problem, Councilwoman Cindy Bass and a contingent of constituents wearing T-shirts that said “Fit 30” recently set up camp inside Kenny’s Seafood & Steaks on Wayne Avenue, where they could order neither seafood or steaks because there were none. But there was plenty of booze.

The proprietor told Bass he used to sell food. But apparently that wasn’t lucrative. Bass explained to him that the city code not only requires establishments that serve liquor by the drink to serve food but to have enough tables and chairs to seat at least 30 people. Thus the Fit 30 T-shirts.

The law also requires consumption on the premises, but you’re more likely to find stop-and-go patrons imbibing outside. “Our children walk to school and they’re seeing this on a daily basis, people out in the morning drinking,” said Daphne Goggins, who traveled from the Northeast to support Bass’ group.

The councilwoman isn’t the only one concerned. Three Philadelphia legislators — State Reps. Joanna McClinton, Jordan Harris, and Donna Bullock — are sponsors of a bill that would give the Liquor Control Board authority to designate nuisance market areas where stiffer penalties can be imposed for violations, including license revocations.

The bill was passed by the full House last week and sent to the Senate Law and Justice Committee, where it deserves equal treatment.

One provision would close a loophole that allows the current holder of a liquor license to sell or transfer it with the LCB investigating only the reputation of the listed new owner. Under the new law, license sales or exchanges would also be based on other factors, including the establishment’s proximity to schools and churches.

McClinton told the Philadelphia Tribune the bill would give the LCB and liquor enforcement officers “some vitally needed tools … to make neighberhoods safer and help reduce crime.” She, Harris, Bullock, and Bass deserve credit for attacking a problem that can destroy a neighborhood’s character.

Here’s hoping their efforts to make unsavory drinking establishments less popular aren’t offset by the money-hungry legislature’s zeal to give bars slot machines.