On Wednesday the Miami Beach Commission banned the sale of alcohol at sidewalk cafés after 2 a.m. The ban mostly focuses on Ocean Drive, and it’s hard for some people to get too fired up about the decision, mostly because they either don’t go there or don’t drink that late.
Whether you’re a teetotaler or a drunkard, or never step foot on Ocean Drive, it shouldn’t matter. This ordinance is dumb. Let’s examine how it’s dumb. Because, trust me, it’s dumb.
On its surface is the prohibition is not that big of a deal, since anyone sitting at one of these outdoor cafés can simply walk inside the same café and continue drinking at 1:59 a.m. Most of the outdoor cafés on Ocean Drive (and the rest of the city) aren’t even open that late. There are very few businesses being tangibly affected by this, especially since language applying to all open-air and outdoor establishments — which would have directly challenged nearly all the hotels on South Beach — was removed.
Let’s first examine why the ordinance was put on the table at all. Apparently, being open into the morning stretches the resources of policing and the city, and invites seedy behavior late into the night. But both of these assertions are basically false.
Before the vote, Commissioner Michael Grieco stated, “I personally walked there at 10:30 at night on a Thursday two weeks ago and I didn’t see one cop.” The fact is one of the first moves that Levine’s handpicked police chief Dan Oates made when he took the position was to ban off-duty security by MBPD at bars and clubs, which would have put a cop outside many of these businesses.
But why does a neighborhood that one of the commissioners sees as having a need for more police also need an ordinance driven towards less resources and policing?
“The mayor and Chief Dan Oates want less people on Ocean Drive, so it’s more manageable, and safe, and they’d rather them inside a club and not outside the street drinking,” claims Joshua Wallack, co-owner and chief operating officer of Mango’s Café on Ocean Drive. “It’s already passed, it’s already there, and if he says 2 o’clock no more booze, than that’s the law, that’s how we’ll do it. It passed unanimously.”
But that’s tempered with one thought where Wallack claims, “Mango’s will happily guide our customers inside, but we really believe the issue lies with enforcement out in the streets, and not so much with our customers.” It’s true, most of the people spending $30 on a cheeseburger, $300 plus a night at a hotel and buying multiple $18 drinks aren’t exactly out there breaking stuff on the street. Buying a bottle of booze at a liquor store and drinking in the street is where the problem lies: the people not spending money at these sidewalk cafés. Why bend the economy, when the problem is deeper than the sidewalk cafés?
Mayor Levine called Ocean Drive “a blight, a cancer that spreads to our entire city.” Really? Cancer? How much money does that cancer bring into your city’s coffers? And what’s the reason for such harsh language? This is politics wrapped in moralism at its worst. And most importantly, anything that equals fewer Resort Tax dollars most likely means, you guessed it, more taxes for residents.
“We believe it’s one small step in a long journey to bringing back Ocean Drive to its iconic nature, where locals actually enjoy going and families enjoy going,” claimed Levine.
FYI, Ocean Drive became iconic because of tourist dollars. What is the nostalgia Levine is grasping at here? When World War II troops trained here? Or it when gaggles of old folks gathered to rot away in the sun?
This shows an amazing disconnect between the people who run Miami Beach, and the people who run businesses on Ocean Drive, as well as the tourists that actually use it. People who live in New York think Times Square is ridiculous and annoying and they avoid it. Can you imagine Bill de Blasio calling Times Square a cancer? No, because he’s smart enough to know that people go to New York to see iconic Times Square. And that’s why people come to Ocean Drive.
Levine wants Miami Beach to become a world-class destination (which it already is by the way) and though he would never say it, he wants it to be Monaco, with Ferraris and helicopters whipping around by day and everyone tucked in bed by 11 p.m after their thousand dollar dinners. He wants Miami Beach to be only for the power brokers that live on North Bay Road and Sunset Island and the tourists that visit them.
This is not what the city is. Not yet. And, lord, I hope it never becomes that. It’s obvious to me the people running the City of Miami Beach don’t really even go to Ocean Drive. And when they do, they don’t understand it. It’s for the tourists. It’s why people come to Miami.
Tourists drive the economy on Miami Beach, tourists who would like to visit and party on Ocean Drive until the wee hours. And you can’t dictate whose tourist dollars fly into MIA. This ordinance doesn’t clean up the street or save money on police patrols. It undercuts the city’s most valuable trade and will end up costing people who live here more money.