Bars and restaurants in a late-night hotspot may face new rules on partying

Delray Beach’s Atlantic Avenue hotspots are a little too hot for city officials.

A boisterous nightlife, fueled by bustling restaurants, lively bars and rollicking parties, is creating safety hazards, noise and crowds that overflow into the streets.

Now the city wants to regulate some of the street’s evening destinations, including how restaurants transition into nightclubs each evening and where patrons can socialize outside bars.

“There are many antiquated rules we need to address,” Commissioner Ryan Boylston said. “We are going to continue to see these crowds. We are the hotspot in south county now.”

Still, when the crowds descend, some bars are having trouble controlling the partiers, said Tim Stillings, the city’s development services director. He cited Santacon, an annual pub crawl that took place on Dec. 18, as a night when bars were pushed past their capacities and police had to be called

The crowds also make a lot of noise, affect traffic and attract panhandlers, Stillings said.

Stand-alone bars are not allowed to have patrons drink outside, even on an outdoor patio, although restaurants can have outdoor seating areas, Stillings said.

Frog Lounge owner Gene Playter said he would be thrilled if the city changed its rules to allow stand-alone bars to serve liquor outside.

“Smoking laws changed, and now smokers want to go outside and still be social,” Playter said. “Every now and then we find someone went outside with a drink. It would be nice if we could get a cafe permit so we could create an area with tables and chairs outside and people could enjoy the weather as they socialize.”

Another problem, Stillings said, is restaurants that transition into nightclubs, usually about 10 p.m. Some restaurants are moving dinner tables to create dance floors and blocking exits and alleyways, creating fire safety code violations.

Restaurants and bars want to work with the city to solve these problems, said Laura Simon, the Downtown Development Authority’s executive director. A City Commission workshop will explore some options on Thursday.

“The question is how can we work with the establishments to grow their nightlife after 10 p.m. and make sure everyone has a safe and great experience,” Simon said.