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Downtown Gainesville diners could soon carry alcohol outdoors
Shawn Graves and Brenda Stewart eat salads Thursday afternoon in downtown Gainesville at Atlas Pizza's outdoor tables. The city of Gainesville is considering allowing people to carry open alcohol containers downtown.

Gainesville’s liquor laws could be getting an update to allow downtown diners to carry alcohol outdoors and lift restrictions on breweries.

The city is considering changing its alcohol code to track with state law.

“State law changed this past year addressing breweries and brewpubs so that they can sell the product they make on-site and also allow people to … take it home with them,” City Manager Bryan Lackey told the Gainesville City Council during its Thursday work session.

The state law takes effect in September. Up to now, breweries have been limited to selling tours and offering “samples” of their beer at the brewery. Any retail sales have had to flow through a wholesaler.

Left Nut Brewing Co. on Atlanta Highway is the lone brewery within city limits.

But the rewrite goes beyond breweries, and it includes the creation of a “downtown dining district” that will allow people to drink alcohol outdoors from a clear, plastic cup in the district, according to Lackey.

Any businesses with a liquor license may allow customers to carry a single drink at a time outside their premises onto public property. Other private property owners within the district would have the right to prevent people from carrying alcohol on their property.

The exact boundaries of the district will be presented at the council’s voting meeting in two weeks if council members approve the idea in first reading, Lackey said, but the area broadly covers downtown Gainesville.

The cup could not be larger than 16 ounces, and the ordinance bans the open-container carrying of and drinking from a can, bottle or glass. Any kind of alcohol would be permitted outdoors, from mixed drinks to beer.

“Someone said, ‘Why can’t I carry a margarita out the door versus carrying a beer?’ Of course, you can explain all the differences in the drink, but … we didn’t want to get into trying to clarify what kind of beverage it was,” Lackey told The Times after Thursday’s meeting. “If it’s in a clear, plastic cup and 16 ounces or less, then it’s covered.”

Alcohol could only be consumed between noon and midnight, unless permitted by the council.

The change is intended to smooth conflicts and uncertainty about what’s allowed downtown and make enforcement of local laws simpler for the Gainesville Police Department, Lackey told The Times after Thursday’s meeting.

At the moment, diners may drink alcohol at sidewalk cafes like Avocados or growler bars like Downtown Drafts, but they’re not allowed to leave the premises. When events are held downtown, organizers have been able to offer wristbands that allow people to carry alcohol in a defined area.

Restrictions have led to confusion about who can drink what type of alcohol when and from what sort of container, Lackey said, leading to situations in which people weren’t sure whether they were violating local laws during public events.

Should the council approve the change, diners would still be able to drink from any kind of container, glass or otherwise, while they remain seated at a restaurant’s sidewalk cafe area -- just as they can now.

After a meal, if they get up to walk around the square, they would have to transfer their beverage into a clear, plastic cup.

The most recent major rewrite of local liquor laws was in 2015, according to Assistant City Manager Angela Sheppard.

If the council approves the changes, the new rules would take effect in mid-August.

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