Price wars in Lincoln bars still a problem to be solved

A sign hangs inside one Downtown Lincoln bar in this file photo from March. Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson Thursday halted the implementation of a policy that would raise prices on alcohol.

? There’s a price war going on along O Street, allowing students to get smashed for just 10 bucks a night.

Bars are selling quarter beer draws, 50-cent longnecks and $1 liquor shots, as they battle one another for the student dollar.

It’s the latest issue the Lincoln community has taken on in its widespread, environmental approach to curbing high-risk drinking.

“High-risk marketing’s a real problem, when you’re kind of encouraging your customers to drink a lot of alcohol and drink it quickly,” said Tom Casady, the city’s police chief.

On a recent Friday night at Main Street Cafe on O Street, most of the hundreds of bar patrons inside were “double fisting,” each holding two plastic cups full of booze in their hands. The bar offers deep discounts from 8 p.m. to close on Fridays and Saturdays.

“We’re one of the cheapest bars in town,” said Tyler Mohr, bar owner.

The city’s internal liquor committee, made up of three city council members and other community stakeholders, has been putting pressure on certain bars to quit offering ridiculous discounts. The city’s also called monthly meetings with bar owners to talk about overcoming the ongoing price war. Some have caught on and started to raise their prices.

“That’s a win-win situation for everybody, because the bars end up doing better financially and the people aren’t drinking as much, at least we hope, creating a dangerous environment downtown,” said John Spatz, a Lincoln city councilman who sits on the liquor committee.

The city’s police officers keep a visible presence on O Street, especially during the busiest bar hours, and they also spend a good deal of time reminding bar owners about the laws against serving alcohol to those who are already intoxicated.

Police officers patrol the bars randomly two or three times a week, walking through to make sure really drunken people aren’t being served even more booze. The bars that are can receive a tavern violation.

“If you’re engaged in a reckless marketing proactive and you’re not able to monitor your customer’s intake … you’re going to be held accountable,” Casady said.