Residents of Iowa City and students at the University of Iowa will hit the polls Tuesday to decide the fate of an ordinance that would require all bar patrons be 21 or older. Proponents of the measure, like retired Iowa City businessman Jim Clayton, believe the 21-only law would help curb the problem of binge and underage drinking. He rejects opponents’ claims that the measure would only spread the problem to house parties.
"We have over 6,000 bar stools downtown," Clayton says, "and I don’t know of a house or a combination of houses that can pour that much alcohol and handle that many people without being caught by the police department." Leah Cohen, who owns Bo James Bar and Restaurant, says she’s opposed to the 21-only plan mostly out of safety concerns. Cohen says, "In particular, the women, are what I’m concerned about. Today, at house parties they’re dealing with drugs, assaults, people being there they don’t know, hard alcohol, not knowing what’s in the alcohol…there’s just lots of dangers connected with it."
Both sides agree that a 21-only law would have an immediate economic impact on businesses in downtown Iowa City. "I think there’s going to be some short term pain," Clayton says, "but if your business plan has been to make your living on underage drinkers, then I think you deserve to suffer a little pain in my opinion." Cohen says she would prefer that the bars, community, and university continue to work together to address underage and binge drinking through other means.
"There’s just lots of things that we have been working on already," Cohen says, "and we would like to have that additional time to just continue to work on those." Nineteen and 20 year olds are currently allowed in some Iowa City bars to enjoy dancing or live music, but critics say the underage patrons are also drinking alcohol.