OCEAN CITY — City Council is expected to pass a resolution today spelling out in no uncertain terms that Ocean City is opposed to serving alcohol in its restaurants and cafes.
The move comes in response to a low-key campaign that some restaurateurs are promoting to allow customers to bring their own wine or beer to dinner, commonly called Bring Your Own Bottle or BYOB.
BYOB is allowed at many other restaurants across Cape May County and New Jersey, but Ocean City — a resort established by Methodist ministers — strictly forbids it.
Mayor Jay Gillian said allowing BYOB would hurt tourism and undermine the city’s reputation as a family-friend resort.
Undeterred, the business owners are pursuing options, which might include a public referendum. The Restaurant Association hired a lawyer to recommend the next step, Asbury Avenue merchant Kevin Scull said.
“I agree that it’s such a sensitive subject that it’s not fair to put that burden on seven people,” Scull said. “If the residents of the town decide they don’t want BYOB after we educate them about the issues, well, we’ll know. Let the people who live in town decide.”
Council President Michael Allegretto said the resolution simply puts council on the record as opposing BYOB.
“The people I spoke to had a strong reaction — no, right away,” he said. “People felt that it was a first step to getting bars in town. They want to keep it all out.”
Unlike the city’s founding fathers, council members said they are not opposed to alcohol per se. But they said they do not want the resort to incur unexpected consequences from relaxing the rules.
“I’m not a teetotaler,” Wagner said. “But I’m dead-set against it. It changes the whole history and character of Ocean City.”
Councilman John Flood said the city’s Blue Laws were struck down by a public referendum. The rules had forced him to close his coin-operated laundry on Sundays.
“They still have a right to ask council to put it to a referendum. I encourage them to do that,” he said. “Personally, I don’t think the town would be well-served to have BYOB. Changing it would not be in the city’s best interests.”
Councilman Scott Ping, reached on vacation in St. Thomas, said he is not in favor of BYOB.
“I don’t feel it would be to anyone’s advantage to have BYOB. It’s not worth the effort,” he said. “I don’t agree with it.”
Bill McGinnity, owner of Cousin’s Restaurant in Ocean City, said he agreed the issue should go to a public ballot.
“It should be a decision by the people,” he said. “We don’t want bars. We don’t want liquor stores. But you can take your family to Disney World — the biggest family resort in the world — and have alcohol with your dinner. To say to Ocean City visitors, ‘We don’t think you’re responsible enough to go out to dinner and have a glass of wine’ is ridiculous.”
Not all restaurant owners support the proposed change.
Angelo DeBartolo, owner of the Beach Grill on North Street, said the move could make Ocean City more like the popular Delaware River town New Hope, Pa. But it also could hurt property values or cut into the city’s niche market for families, he said.
“It hasn’t been allowed for 100 years. Why do we need it now?” he asked.
Council will meet 7 p.m. today at City Hall.
Contact Michael Miller:
City Council's preferred adult beverages:
"Beer. Domestic or imported, it doesn't matter."
"It depends on the season. In the summer, I like gin and tonic. In the winter, I like Austin Nichols' Wild Turkey 120-proof bourbon."
"If I was making a toast, it would be with wine or champagne."
"Nice imported beer. Life's too short to drink (bad) beer."