Maryville is one of the few communities in Missouri that allows those under the age of 21 to enter a bar. The bar entry age in Maryville is 19. Four years ago this caused an uproar both among the community and the student population at Northwest.
Maryville has always been a unique community. Prior to the mid-1990s there was no legal age for bar entry. Anyone could walk into a bar. In an effort to keep high school students out of bars, the city passed an ordinance setting the bar entry age at 19. Since the age was set it was never changed or reviewed by the city until 2012.
City Manager Greg McDanel said the debate over the bar entry age began with an innocent question brought up during an open forum at a city council meeting.
“We had a gentleman come to the City Council meeting in the open forum and questioned whether or not it (the bar entry age) was the appropriate thing to do,” McDanel said. “The council started to look into it and started analyzing our alcohol related policies in comparison to other Missouri communities.”
McDanel said the concerns were both about safety and health issues, the assumption being that those entering the bar underage were consuming alcohol in an unsafe environment.
Following the City Council meeting, city council and Maryville Public Safety worked together gathering information and reviewing alcohol related ordinances in similar communities in Missouri as well reviewing Maryville’s alcohol related incidents such as liquor license violations and minor in possession incidents.
During the period of research, several ordinances were proposed, three of those ordinances being an ordinance that raised the legal bar entry age to 21, a nuisance party ordinance and an open carry ordinance.
“Nuisance party essentially allowed public safety officers more flexibility to combat house parties and those kinds of things,” McDanel said. “The fear was if the ordinance for the bar (entry age) went to 21, we would have more house parties. So staff was recommending if that happened we would need more ability to go on nuisance complaints for house parties.”
While these ordinances passed, the only one that remained was the open carry ordinance, allowing those of legal drinking age to carry open containers in public.
According to McDanel, the City Council did pass the ordinance raising the bar age to 21. After the bar entry age was passed, the student population cried out in anger.
Cody Uhing, Northwest Alumni and former member of Student Senate recalls his emotions concerning the ordinance passing.
“It was pretty disappointing to lose the fight after we initially defeated the entry age proposal,” Uhing said. “I had worked with University leaders and council members as the student liaison to the city council to host on-campus forums and hearing sessions, so when it came back before the council and passed despite the overwhelming opposition, we were a bit dejected.”
Molly’s owner Mick Hoskey said he never agreed with the idea of raising the legal bar entry age, even as a father of two daughters.
“Personally as a father of two girls I was against it,” Hoskey said. “I think it (a bar) is a much safer environment for girls to socialize in than house parties. If the 19 and 20 year olds can’t go to the bar their going to be at house parties and the people (of legal age) who come to the bar will be hosting the house parties because everyone wants to socialize.”
Uhing echoed Hoskey’s thoughts about an increase in house parties had the bar entry age remained 21.
“The choice was between having young students in a somewhat controlled environment or a house party,” Uhing said. “I believe that keeping 19 and 20 year olds out of the bar would lead to greater instances of binge-drinking and other unsafe drinking habits. University leaders, student organizations, and city officials worked tirelessly to plan for alternative activities for students if the entry age was raised, but there is only so much that can be done. Young adults will be young adults, we just had to do our best to ensure their safety.”
While there was an ordinance proposed to help combat issues that could arise at house parties, there was still concern about whether that was the right decision.
Paige Brotherton, now a senior at Northwest was a freshman at the time of the debate. As she recalls the events that transpired during the bar entry debate of 2013, she believes keeping the bar entry age at 19 was the right decision.
“There would have been more house parties and more MIP's handed out which would have created more problems for everyone in Maryville,” Brotherton said. “Changing the bar age was not going to stop anyone from drinking. Drinking is a very popular activity here in Maryville and changing the bar age was not going to stop that.”
McDanel said he does not see any reason for the City Council to revisit the topic of bar entry age. McDanel also stated that in 2015, while there was an increase in violations with one bar, the conversation created following the events helped to begin a decrease moving forward.
“It has gone the other way, because of all of the conversation that happened in 2015, we see bar owners being more open to discussing law enforcement issues with us, self-reporting among other things,” McDanel said.
McDanel said as long as policies are respected and there is no large increase of violations the policies will remain the same.
As far as bar policies being respected, the bar entry age seems safe. According to the Maryville Public Safety police blotters, in the last year there have been a total of 116 MIP’s issued in Maryville. Of those 116 MIP’s 25 were issued at the 300 block of North Market, which is right outside of Molly’s and 14 of them were issued at 400 block of North Buchanan, which is right outside of the Palms. Meaning only 39 out of 116, or 33.6 percent of the last year’s MIP’s were issued at or near a bar.
This could raise concerns about house parties being a larger issue than previously thought, but it is believed that Public Safety and the city are taking the correct course of action to combat the issue of underage drinking.
McDanel said law enforcement involvement has increased and bar owners have become more willing to work with city officials to combat underage drinking.
“We have increased bar patrol efforts which we have plain clothes officers generally, they’re marked, they’ve got police - not the uniforms - but they’ve at least got the polos on and they’ll walk through and kind of control things a little bit,” McDanel said. “So we’ve seen more of that, and we’ve also seen bar owners be more involved in the process…. We’ve seen an increase in self reporting from those establishments that were originally concerning. It was met well by the owners to assist us instead of changing the policy to work out more involvement from law enforcement.”
Uhing said while he is not a student at Northwest anymore, he still believes the decision to repeal the ordinance was the right choice.
“I do believe the council's decision to keep the bar entry age at 19 was the correct move, and I am proud of the work our student leaders did,” Uhing said. “Providing students with an alternative to a house party on Friday or Saturday nights is the best way to curb unhealthy drinking habits.”