Port Vincent ordinance overreach? Merchants face jail time if they remain open between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by BILL FEIG -- The Whiskey River bar in the town of Port Vincent.

It is still legal to jail Port Vincent shopkeepers for burning the midnight oil.

A peculiar, decades-old ordinance intended to enforce last call for alcohol sales may have overreached by barring all businesses from operating after 2 a.m. Now, the village Board of Aldermen is working to revise the Port Vincent code.

The current regulation demands “all businesses and commercial establishments” in the village shut down between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. Violators can face a $100 fine or five days behind bars.

As a practical matter, Port Vincent, population 741, only has two or three businesses open late, all bars. But Tuesday, during a review of the ordinance, village leaders took steps to remove the business curfew, which will clear the way for a convenience store to open 24 hours if desired. More business-friendly practices might even lure a McDonald’s or Taco Bell, village leaders remarked.

They intend to enact a new ordinance governing alcohol sales based on the parish code but with less-stringent laws. After all, the mayor noted, folks in the village by the river might want to pick up a predawn six-pack before hitting the water for a day of fishing.

David Carter, who’s served as alderman and now mayor for over a decade, said he can’t recall anyone ever getting locked up, or even fined, for violating the current ordinance.

Nevertheless, Police Chief Matthew Allen recently suggested altering the code to increase fines, remove jail time and move the closing time up an hour to 1 a.m. Sunday through Thursday. The village and the unincorporated areas of the parish have different times for last calls, and there’s been confusion in the past between local police and the Sheriff’s Office, he explained, saying he wants a uniform rule.

Bar operators said they don’t mind the change.

“It’s not gonna affect us, really,” said Nain Wright, manager of Whiskey River, adding that the bar usually closes by 1 a.m. during the week already.

The story was the same at The Blues Bar, where weeknight business doesn’t generally run late unless the Wednesday pool league is shooting slow, owner James “Blu” Brooks said.

“It really ain’t bothering us that much,” he said of the proposal.

The village should “kill two birds with one stone” by striking the business curfew and enacting an alcohol sales ordinance at the same time, Alderman J.J. Page said during Tuesday’s public hearing. The alcohol ordinance would follow the parish’s lead, setting last call at 1 a.m. during the week and 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.

The board agreed to return at the Sept. 1 meeting with two ordinances to address each issue.

Unlike the parish ordinance, which forbids the sale of alcohol until 8 a.m., Port Vincent leaders indicated they would likely allow sales as early as 4 a.m. as a nod to fishermen who may want to stash some beer in a cooler before hitting the water.

Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.