The late-night party is over for Ocean Drive sidewalk cafes. The Miami Beach City Commission voted yesterday to ban all outdoor booze sales after 2 a.m. at the cafes' outdoor tables, the first of several moves Mayor Philip Levine pledges will usher in a new era for the iconic beachfront boulevard.
Several restaurant owners slammed the commission and questioned how the ban would change the neighborhood for the better, but Levine and his backers were steadfast that the prohibition — which kicks in on May 30 — will clean up the street.
"We don't believe a 2 a.m. sidewalk prohibition is the be-all, end-all for cleaning up Ocean Drive," Levine said. "We believe it's one small step in a long journey to bringing back Ocean Drive to its iconic nature, where locals actually enjoy going and families enjoy going."
Several owners of Ocean Drive's most prominent restaurants — including Mango's and the Clevelander — stepped up to express misgivings about the move last night. Many pointed out what they consider bigger problems, including non-paying customers clogging the street at night.
"The big problem is that all weekend in front of 10th and Ocean ... I've got people with red solo cups, who bring drinks from other hotels or bars," Mike Palma of the Clevelander told the commission. "We can sit here and talk about sidewalk cafes, but we're ignoring the real issue. They're not spending money."
David Wallack, Mango's owner, said he doubted the new rules would matter because so many current rules are ignored.
"We have an operator with 39 violations that's still operating," he said, declining to name that particular restaurant. "Either you're responsible or you're not. ... It is the Wild West. We feel endangered out on the street."
The ban will have a real effect on revenues, other owners said, because the outdoor tables are the most profitable on Ocean Drive.
"It's putting lipstick on a pig. I don't see what that's accomplishing," said Kyle Eldridge, owner of Johnny Rockets. "We have expenses based on what revenue come out of those eight tables. They're our most profitable tables."
The real problem on Ocean Drive, Eldridge and others said, are sidewalk cafes that aggressively hawk for customers and then rip off tourists with absurd prices — not late night alcohol sales.
"I don't understand why we're doing this when there are ordinances in place now that are supposed to address problems that are actually major problems, like all the hawking," Eldridge said. "They're not being enforced ... There are restaurants grossly overcharging people."
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But Levine and commissioners promised that the late night booze ban would be only the first new law aimed at Ocean Drive.
"This is one of many steps to bring Ocean Drive to where we want it to be," Commissioner Michael Greico said.
The commission unanimously approved the ban, which won't affect patios or poolside areas in South Beach.