Friday, December 29, 2006

Club Confusion: Underage Complicity Lies...Where?

The nightlife report issued by the City Council is remarkably evenhanded considering the hysteria that led the body into its investigation of club safety. There are, however,certain basic weaknesses in the council's understanding of some of the underlying problems of the city's night life. The primary misconception revolves around the entire concept of underage drinking.

We can see how this is played out in today's NY Post story of the council's nightlife report (and let's say right here that the Post's Stephanie Gaskell has been terrific at pursuing this issue in an evenhanded manner). As the paper reports the council righteously goes after the purveyors and users of fake IDs. At the same time Speaker Quinn lashes out against "club promoters." As she says, "Promoters often contribute to disruptive incidents and to the problem of underage drinking."

In response to this Quinn is looking to license promoters, something that the industry sees as totally unworkable. AS NYNA head David Rabin points out, "There are too many and they rise and fall week by week." The urge to regulate, it is felt, will create an additional regulatory burden that will "water down" the city's vibrant nightlife.

The problem here, as the Post pointed out in its story on promoters last summer, is that they are meeting an "unmet need." There are tens of thousands of 18-20 year olds who want to drink and regard the age limit as a crock. When the majority of a certain population has no respect for the law a huge problem is created that can't be solved by any regulatory crackdown on businesses (in this kind of a situation the police also often find themselves in a hopeless situation).

If the council is unwilling to severely punish underage violators than the net result of its regulatory efforts will be to dilute the vibrancy and economic viability of the city's clubs, leaving untouched the underlying under aged drinking epidemic. Yet too often, especially in NYC, the government answer to any problem is another onerous regulation.