Why We Should Be Able to Drink Outside in New York

The last time I got a ticket for drinking outside was about a year ago; I was on the waterfront bike path in Bay Ridge after midnight, sipping a bottle of Coney Island Lager nestled in a small paper bag, staring out at Staten Island, when a cop car I didn’t see until too late sidled up to my bench, and two officers got out, and we went through that whole thing. I was pissed: at myself, for violating the law and being dumb enough to get caught doing it, but also at the police and the way they apply the law. There’s enforcing municipal ordinances to maintain order and keep the city safe; then there’s enforcing them just because they’re on the books. I’m quiet, I clean up after myself—no one benefitted from that ticket except the city’s coffers.

Fortunately, you can now just pay open container tickets through the mail: admit fault, sign your name, write a check for $25. (It took so long to clear that I worried for months that any day cops would show up at my door with a warrant for my arrest.) In the old days—because I’ve received my share of summonses; once cops gave me seven tickets for every possible ordinance I could have been in violation of: open container, glass in park, alcohol in park, park after dark, etc., so many that they had to call in another pair of cops to get an extra book of blank tickets—you had to go down to the courthouse and sit around all day with all the rest of the al fresco tipplers and public urinators. It seemed a colossal waste of time and resources for everyone: the lost productivity for those skipping work and school, the wasted time of judges and prosecutors. (Once a prosecutor asked the judge to let me off without a fine because he liked my hat.) I’m sure the city makes many thousands of dollars, if not more, off of these offenses, but it seems like a form of regressive revenue collecting; you don’t see many three-piece suits in ticket court.

So, what if we just let everybody drink outside like they do in Savannah, New Orleans, and a few other (obviously cooler) cities? Mayoral candidate and perennial schmuck Anthony Weiner has tried to distance himself from his dick-pic past by arguing his mayoral campaign is based on ideas, and finally during last night’s debate he voiced an interesting one. While almost all of the Democratic candidates expressed support for allowing people to drink on their stoops—which, Jesus, yes, of course! What’s next, banning backyard boozing?—Weiner took it one step further, adding “that New Yorkers should be able to drink in the park and beach, too,” Gothamist reports. (Imagine! No longer having to hide your Corona in Coney Island!) This isn’t a unique opinion: “I never understood why we don’t let you drink in the park,” Bloomberg said three years ago. As if he can’t do anything about it? (He has been spotted sipping wine at parks events, which is always brought up every time someone else gets a ticket for it.)

Even the goddamn New York Post ran an editorial in favor of open-air bottle-hitting. “Most outdoor drinking… was essentially banned under Mayor Rudy Giuliani in 2000,” Karol Markowicz wrote. “Maybe it was a good idea then. While crime had been falling for years, it still wasn’t nearly as low as it is now. But it has dropped further, across every possible index… New Yorkers have earned the right to be treated as adults.” Right on. As I sat there, a cop scratching out the what, where and when of my non-offense, I was like a little kid in the principal’s office. The city didn’t get any safer—it just felt a little shittier.

Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart

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