In New Orleans, closing bar doors at 3 a.m. could be a fire hazard

Will closed bar doors affect crime? Will it violate fire code?
Updated: Jan. 25, 2017 at 9:17 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Bar owners call a proposal to force them to close their doors at 3 a.m. a business killer and possibly fire hazard.

"[It's] the biggest mistake the city's ever gonna make," said Earl Bernhardt, who operates Tropical Isle and a handful of other bars on Bourbon Street.

Bernhardt said some of his establishments have to leave their doors open or risk violating fire codes.

"The fire marshal has told us as long as we're doing business, the doors have to remain open. The city says at 3 o'clock we need to close our doors. So they're going to have to work that out with the fire marshal because we're caught in between a rock and a hard place," Bernhardt said. "I know we had a fire at 600 [Bourbon] one time, and we emptied the building in less than two minutes, but the doors were opened. If the doors were closed, it might've taken a little longer. It's hard to say."

Bernhardt worries the proposal could kill the charm of the city where visitors show up to party in a city that doesn't close.

"We'll lose this appeal that we built up over the years that makes people want to come and say we'll just be like every other city," Bernhardt said.

Some bartenders think a closed-door policy just doesn't mesh with the storied Southern Hospitality of New Orleans.

"It's so easy to walk past a closed door, it's so easy and you don't even notice it. Who's going to notice if you pass by next door? At least this is a corner, but I watch people pass by because my doors are closed," said Dawn Kesslering, a bartender at Johnny White's Pub & Grill.

Bernhardt is also concerned with the doors themselves - many too bulky and outdated to be opened and closed as customers enter and leave.

"Those are enormous doors. They are about 4 feet wide and about 7 or 8 feet tall. The Vieux Carre will not let us change that because that was the way it was built in 1860, and they only open one way. It would just be a clogged mess trying to get people in and out of them," Bernhardt said.

Bernhardt thinks, overall, the safety plans, including making Bourbon Street pedestrian only and live-monitored crime cameras, will be effective, but he's certain the closed-door issue could cut into his bottom line.

"It could put us out of business, and what it's going to do during these busy times like Mardi Gras and so forth that's when we make all our money to pay our taxes, which property taxes here in the French Quarter are enormous, pay all of our insurance for the year, it's going to cut into that really drastically," Bernhardt said.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu said during his press conference that the proposal is meant to help clear the streets after 3 a.m. and it will affect bars across the city. He said his administration considered a proposal that would have shut Bourbon Street down at a certain time, but thought just asking bars to close their doors would be just as effective.

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