Public drinking may be allowed every weekend in Manassas

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Manassas officials want to let the good times roll.

Bourbon Street it is not, but Old Town’s alcohol laws could become even more liberal in the coming weeks, as a request to allow public drinking every weekend will go before the city council Monday night for a vote.

If approved by the council, the city’s request will then go to the Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Authority, which would grant permits for public drinking within certain bounds for every Friday to Sunday under a new state law that was sponsored by Sen. Jeremy McPike, a Democrat whose 29th District includes the city.

Previously, Manassas and other localities were allowed special event permits for 12 events a year. But under the new law, which took effect July 1, there’s no limit to how many permits the ABC board can grant.

Historic Manassas will continue to hold the permits for a  “designated outdoor refreshment area,” which would run from the railroad tracks to Church Street between Grant and Fairview Avenues, stretching up to Quarry Street as well. Permits would allow for public drinking within that area from Friday night to Sunday, except for from midnight to 10 a.m..

Patrick Small, the city’s economic development director, said that the previous events with the designated area were clearly a draw not just for bars and restaurants, but also for stores, where some shoppers came in with a looser grip on their wallet.

On a typical First Friday before the permits began in 2019, Small said that Old Town would draw somewhere between 1,500 to 2,500 people. With the special event permits, they would draw between 4,500 and 7,500 people. At the same time, Small said, there wasn’t any increase in unruly behavior.

“From a law enforcement perspective, from a public behavior perspective, we had zero increase in events the times we use those programs,” Small told InsideNoVa. “The public likes them, the businesses like them.”

ABC, the state’s liquor board, has also relaxed certain other restrictions, like making the to-go cocktails that restaurants were able to serve during the pandemic permanent. “If nothing else, COVID has sort of helped ABC come into the 21st century a little bit,” Small said.

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