Manassas restaurateurs are celebrating a new program that lets festival attendees buy alcoholic beverages and take them outside at select community events. And organizers are ready to fill the calendar with more opportunities in 2020.
The special event license, issued by the Virginia Department of Alcohol Beverage Control in August, allows for up to 12 events per year at which drinking-age visitors can carry alcoholic beverages outside within the downtown area. The permit was used on First Friday events hosted by Historic Manassas last fall and found overwhelming support.
“The excitement was very tangible. We had so many people filling the streets, more than we’d ever seen for just a First Friday,” said Charles Gilliam, owner of Okra’s Cajun Creole on Center Street. “People showed up in droves.”
Debbie Haight, the executive director of Historic Manassas, said a typical, well-attended First Friday draws about 500 people to the downtown area. But in September, during the first event with the alcohol permits, over 6,000 people flooded in. In October, she said the crowd was just as large.
“I’m excited to see the collected sales tax revenue figures for 2019 and compare the last quarter to 2018,” Haight said in an email. “I think the economic impact from this license will be significant.”
Gilliam said a group of Old Town bar and restaurant owners are in discussions with the city about how to make the best use of the 12 events in 2020 and that they’ll probably hold off until March or April, when the weather warms up. From then, Gilliam said, the possibilities include St. Patrick’s Day and the Fourth of July as well as the normal First Friday events.
“We’re even discussing potentially doing something that might resemble a ball drop on New Year’s Eve type of thing for ending 2020,” Gilliam said. “We’ve quietly and quickly had discussions about it.”
Jerry Thomas, the manager at Three Monkeys Pub & Chophouse on Church Street, said he hopes the city will expand the boundaries within which open containers are allowed. His bar is right at the perimeter, meaning patrons can take drinks out one exit but not another.
Nonetheless, Thomas said the program was a big boost for revenue when the weather was nice.
“We enjoy it and we definitely do well with it,” Thomas said. “The first First Friday we had a DJ upstairs and a DJ on the back patio and we were packed everywhere, upstairs and down. You couldn’t move in here.”
According to Manassas Police, the increased crowds and alcohol haven’t led to any unruly behavior. Gilliam said all the bar owners talked beforehand about being responsible and not overserving anyone.
“From what we’ve seen, the ABC special permit events have drawn larger crowds and overall we have heard positive feedback from people in attendance,” said police spokesperson Sarah Maroney. “From the law enforcement side, we haven’t encountered an increase in crime or issues due to the permit.”