Future of bar crawls, and the parade

Officials and residents react to calmer ‘LepreCon’
LepreCon was much calmer this year according to officials who are hopeful this is the beginning of a downward trend in raucous bar crawls.
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LepreCon was much calmer this year according to officials who are hopeful this is the beginning of a downward trend in raucous bar crawls.

After city officials said that last weekend’s annual St. Patrick’s-themed bar crawls were calmer than previous years, a city spokesman said the city is still not considering bringing back the St. Patrick’s Parade, although the situation may change down the line.
Three weeks ago, the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control board settled violations with five bars in the city, settlements that meant the bars had to close for several days including this past weekend.
Before the weekend, Mayor Ravi Bhalla spoke to several news outlets about wanting to control the rowdiness from holiday-themed bar crawls.
The “LepreCon” crawls on the first Saturday of March began a few years ago. In 2012, the city’s annual St. Patrick’s Parade was cancelled after former Mayor Dawn Zimmer wanted it to move to a weekday to lessen the accompanying problems with bar crowds and house parties, but the private St. Patrick’s Parade Committee declined to move the parade, instead canceling it. As a result, entrepreneurs started on-line bar crawls the first Saturday of the month.
Police Chief Ken Ferrante said last week that this year’s first Saturday was the calmest he has seen in years, and also less costly – a roughly $97,000 cost to the city compared to $132,000 the previous year.
When asked if the city may start talks with the St. Patrick’s Parade Committee to bring back the parade, Deputy Chief of Staff for Mayor Ravi Bhalla Jason Freeman said simply, “No.”
He added, “The mayor is looking to build upon the progress of this past Saturday. However, if this positive trend continues, then all options are on the table.”
The Hoboken St. Patrick’s Parade Committee included a group of citizens of Irish heritage, and was founded by Helen Cunning. Cunning did not return a phone call last week.
Not everyone was happy with last weekend’s enforcement. Debate raged on the internet over whether the city was punishing only the “problem” bars in the city, or other businesses as well. Some businesses closed voluntarily to avoid the rowdiness or the prospect of being fined.
Other residents supported the city’s actions and appreciated the calm atmosphere in town that day.
On Twitter, a few residents alleged that a SWAT team showed up armed and intimidated guests at a house party on Washington Street before shutting it down.
Ferrante said that the situation was exaggerated and there was no SWAT team in town last weekend. He said it was shut down due to a landlord complaint of noise and overcrowding.

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“The mayor hopes that bar owners will consider the financial upside in tailoring their marketing towards the evolving and maturing demographics of Hoboken.” – Jason Freeman

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Fewer arrests

According to a press release from the city, arrests during LepreCon decreased by 64 percent (from 11 to four) since last year’s event, ambulance calls decreased by 18 percent (from 28 to 23), and calls for service decreased by 21 percent (from 488 to 386). City ordinance summons, however, increased from 31 to 37, including a summons for a man who jumped into the river on a dare, according to Ferrante. The police rescued him and he was transported to Hoboken University Medical Center. Jumping into the Hudson River from Hoboken has proven fatal in the past.
There were three tavern reports on Saturday, compared to 24 during SantaCon last December.
New Jersey and Hoboken ABC Inspectors reported no violations in any of the bars that were inspected, and the Hoboken Fire Department reported 100 percent compliance with code inspections.
“I am hopeful this is a sign of a downward trend in ‘con’ events,” said Ferrante. “This has been the calmest I have seen it…This past weekend there were no reported sexual assaults, there were no officers injured, and there were no civilians with fractured skulls or permanent injuries. I see it as a success from law enforcement stance.”
Bhalla said, “This year there was a clear understanding of the ground rules between my office, the Hoboken Police Department, and bar owners from across the city. I give a lot of credit to Police Chief Ferrante who took the time to speak with as many bar owners as possible to create a climate of understanding and expectation.”
Ferrante said the weather, parades in other towns, and the bar closures helped.
He said that even with five bars forced to close, “That still left 125 liquor licensed establishments open. The ones that were closed are the bars that are popular with that 21 year old demographic.”
The Black Bear Bar & Grill and Tally Ho closed that day voluntarily. On social media, the Black Bear Tweeted, “As a 30-year Hoboken Resident and business owner, I have made the decision to close Black Bear Bar & Grill and Tally Ho Saloon…my family and staff came to the conclusion that it is the best choice. We are looking forward to working closely with Mayor Bhalla, Chief Ferrante and city officials making sure hospitality establishment conduct business in close partnership with the city….”
Dave Jacey, owner of the Black Bear Bar & Grill and Tally Ho Saloon, was unavailable for additional comment last week.
Ferrante said, “I repeated over and over, the suspensions were not about the Police Department and mayor trying to shut down the bar industry.”
Jason Freeman said, “The mayor hopes that bar owners will consider the financial upside in tailoring their marketing towards the evolving and maturing demographics of Hoboken.”
“We had a total of five house parties that received summonses,” said Ferrante. “I wouldn’t call that a major increase. The last two LepreCons didn’t have any house parties, but during parade year we would see 40 to 50 house parties that would need to be summonsed.”
One local Twitter user wrote, “Literally a SWAT team just showed up to Justin’s apt for no reason.” He did not respond to a message for additional comment by press time.
According to Ferrante, the city’s Emergency Services Unit was not called to any house parties, but officers did have to shut down the party in question due to a noise and overcrowding complaint from the building’s landlord. He said the landlord approached four officers across the street, telling them that he was worried that the floor might collapse from the weight of the crowd and that he had posted signs stating no parties would be allowed.
Ferrante said the renters were issued a disorderly house summons.

Marilyn Baer can be reached at marilynb@hudsonreporter.com.