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The Sound

Letting the kids play

12/23/2015

In case you missed it, the Des Moines City Council held a vote a couple of weeks ago regarding the city’s all-ages show ordinance. For those unaware, the city ordinance states that music performances that are open to all ages must end by 9 p.m. Under the original writing, there was a way for venues to obtain an exemption to the ordinance by showing that more than 50 percent of their receipts came from non-alcoholic sources, something only one music venue in town can do. There are other guidelines in place — a venue must have a dedicated stage and book more than 100 shows a year — that help ensure that teens are not just walking into the corner pub at night, but the 50-percent requirement keeps more music-dedicated venues like Vaudeville Mews and Lefty’s Live Music from catering to a large portion of their potential base.

The Social Club’s Basement Bar has been an unwitting litmus test for Des Moines’ all-ages ordinance.

The Social Club’s Basement Bar has been an unwitting litmus test for Des Moines’ all-ages ordinance.

In recent months, there has been a groundswell of public support for lifting the all-ages ban. Spearheaded by 13-year-old Finn Anderson, this most recent attempt to change the rules gained the support of the likes of 80/35 coordinator and Mews owner Amedeo Rossi, Des Moines Social Club founder Zach Mannheimer and Lefty’s co-owner Erik Brown, among others. The group met with representatives from the Des Moines Police Department, Mayor Frank Cownie and members of the city council to make their case. Cownie and several council members seemed to be on board. DMPD, however, did not.

“We just think kids in bars don’t mix,” DMPD Major Steve Waymire told The Des Moines Register after the council voted to keep the old rules in place.

But there is another line from that same Register story that underlines how empty the DMPD’s words are: “Mannheimer said the Basement Bar in the Social Club (…) operates with this exemption, though the city clerk’s office could not locate documentation to confirm that.”

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Mannheimer said that the issue was a policy misunderstanding.

“We were under the impression that the annual theater license that we have to get covered this, but it turns out it does not,” he said.

The Basement Bar opened on Oct. 1, 2014. It has operated for 14 months as if it had an exemption to the ordinance, without one being on file. And DMPD — the entity that wants to keep kids safe and out of bars — never noticed.

And it is not just the Basement. Employees from several bars that I spoke to concurred that DMPD almost never conducts spot checks for minors. A bartender at one east side bar said she saw officers poke their heads in for a brief visual scan once, but no IDs were checked. Another 13-year veteran of several downtown bars said he’d only ever seen two instances of DMPD officers looking for underage patrons. In short, while DMPD representatives might say their concern is for keeping teenagers safe, their actions imply a desire to simply not have to think about it.

Ironically, by the DMPD relying too heavily on the ordinance to do their work for them, the Basement Bar has helped underscore exactly why the ordinance should be adjusted: DMPD is ultimately counting on music venues to police themselves. The Basement Bar proves that, with the proper guidelines in place, local venues are quite capable of doing just that.

“We don’t do a lot of all-ages shows, but there has never been an incident,” Mannheimer said. “The bottom line is that, despite many people’s best efforts, this law is still in play and should not be.” CV

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