The Birmingham Police Department said it would be stepping up public safety measures following a shooting outside South Bar on April 2, and now downtown bar owners are feeling the impact.
The owners of South, the Hamilton Room and Chen Chow Brasserie received notice Thursday that valet service must shut down at midnight beginning this weekend, two hours earlier than the bars' 2 a.m. closing times.
The move follows an April 2 shooting outside South Bar, in which a 29-year-old Redford woman allegedly fired a handgun into the air during a fight after closing time.
After the shooting, Birmingham Police Chief Don Studt said police would be increasing enforcement downtown, noting, "This type of dangerous behavior is unacceptable by any standard and will not be tolerated."
Only South, the Hamilton Room and Chen Chow are impacted by the shorter valet hours, according to a police dispatcher. Other restaurants with valet parking — such as Mitchell's Fish Market and Fleming's Prime Steakhouse — close at 11 p.m., as does their valet service.
In a letter shared with Birmingham Patch written by South co-owner Steve Peurtas and addressed to Studt, Puertas said he was concerned with public safety should valet service not be offered when South closes at 2 a.m.
"Our security is normally posted at our entrance ... and are readily available to intercede if any issues should arise," he said. "By restricting valet, you are now requiring people to walk to their cars wherever they may be — the public parking spaces, as well as parking structures and residential streets. All of those areas have less security, are not in a controlled environment and are less likely to be safe."
According to Peurtas, South only offers valet service Thursday through Sunday. Hamilton Room and Chen Chow offer valet Friday and Saturday.
'We were blindsided,' bar owner says
Valet service also ends two hours earlier now at The Hamilton Room and Chen Chow, other popular spots that were the scene of other recent late-night fights.
"We were blindsided," said Eric Doelle, CEO and president the Dali Group, owner of each business as well as the adjacent Barrio. "There's been no conversation with police or the city. We just got a letter."
In a phone interview late Friday afternoon, Doelle declined to speculate on the possible financial impact if some patrons leave earlier.
"I don't think that will happen," he said, "But the impact is completely unknowable until after this weekend. I've never run it the other way" — meaning without Friday and Saturday valet service until closing. "We don't know if it'll be a pain in our butt or how our customers will react."
Doelle's nightspots are located on North Old Woodward and Hamilton Row in the same building as the Palladium 12 movie theater. Doelle said he wasn't sure what kind of parking problem might occur without valet service.
"We'll have to see if this creates problems in parking structures," Doelle said
Two weeks ago, Birmingham police requested backup from two nearby departments to handle fighting and a crowd outside Chen Chow and officers responded at 2 a.m. April 1 to a fight in the Hamilton Room's bar area involving a group of men. No one was arrested either night.
Security a priority at South, owner says
As to how long the mandated closing time for valet will be in effect, Puertas said the letter from the city didn't indicate whether the change was indefinite or temporary. City Manager Bob Bruner and Studt were unavailable for comment Friday evening.
However, Peurtas said Bruner did respond to Peurtas' email with a note Friday afternoon, saying the police department plans to monitor the situation and will make changes as necessary.
Puertas is concerned because South has several bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs scheduled in the coming months, and said the lack of valet service late at night might cause confusion when big groups try to leave. "I think it could potentially cause more problems in the parking structures," he said. "Now (people) are going to be parking on the street and in the parking structures."
In addition, Puertas said he and South co-owner Joeseph Spadafore have worked hard over the past year to create a safe environment at South, noting the shooting was first police incident at the bar and restaurant this year.
"We realize these kinds of places are going to take more supervision. We've been pretty diligent since the Braylon incident in general," he said, referring to an Aug. 1 incident in which two men said to be part of New York Jets wide receiver Braylon Edwards' group were accused of stabbing two bouncers at South during a fight.
According to Peurtas, South hasn't made any dramatic changes in the security staff since the shooting, noting there are six to eight security personnel working on any given weekend night.
Still, Peurtas said he and Spadafore live in Birmingham, have young children and feel terrible about what happened.
"It's gut-wrenching to us," he said. "And we feel terrible about what happened. We believe it's not just a South problem. It's a problem that's going on everywhere. We just feel if people can work together, and quit blaming people, we can look at the real problem."