Should more areas around Atlanta allow drinking alcohol outside?

Many intown communities do not have an area designated as an “open container district,” where drinking alcohol outside is allowed. But it is becoming more and more common for open-container districts to pop up. Duluth, Kennesaw and Woodstock are just some of the suburban cities that have embraced entertainment districts. These areas have mostly stayed outside the Perimeter, however. The trend may creep closer to Atlanta in the coming years as more developments are planned.

On a recent summer night in downtown Decatur, the skies are clear and the breeze is warm, as patrons sit on benches or walk between bars and restaurants. Bisrat Kebede sips a Blue Moon outside of The Square Pub, but he wouldn’t be able to take it far beyond his table, even though he spots a nice seating area across the square.

“Over there, that would’ve been a nice space. If I could go and come back, that would be great,” the 26-year-old Emory University law student said. “That would create an even better atmosphere.”

Decatur is one of many intown communities that do not have an area of town designated as a permanent “open container district,” where drinking alcohol outside is allowed. As construction continues on what may be the first open-container district in DeKalb County in the new Assembly development, could cities like Decatur follow with their own drinking district?

As more development sprang up around metro Atlanta’s suburbs over the past several years, it has become more and more common for open-container districts to pop up as well. Duluth, Kennesaw and Woodstock are just some of the suburban cities that have embraced entertainment districts as a way of livening up their city centers. Avalon and Halcyon — two big-budget mini-city developments on the Northside — allow open containers.

Attendees enjoy a fair-weathered evening at Parsons Alley on Food Truck Friday during the weekly summertime bash, Fridays-N-Duluth, in downtown Duluth. (Casey Sykes for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Attendees enjoy a fair-weathered evening at Parsons Alley on Food Truck Friday during the weekly summertime bash, Fridays-N-Duluth, in downtown Duluth. (Casey Sykes for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

They’re also called “entertainment districts,” usually consisting of a few blocks in a downtown or restaurant area where patrons can leave a bar with a drink in their hand and walk down the street or enjoy a nearby park.

But the concept has essentially stayed outside the Perimeter, despite some vibrant intown areas that some say could be a good fit for open container.

“Allowing people to be able to walk between bars with their drink in a cup, without having to chug their beer, so they can go to the next venue with their friends … it makes sense,” said Stephe Koontz, a Doraville city councilwoman.

She and her fellow elected officials voted unanimously last fall to allow open-container drinking at a massive new development called Assembly, which will feature office space, housing and retail options. Construction is still ongoing at the mini-city, located on the site of the former General Motors plant near the Doraville MARTA stop. It could be the first place in DeKalb County to have a true “entertainment district.”

That trend may creep even closer to Atlanta in the coming years. As Chamblee plots a redevelopment of its historic district into a “Town Center,” the city’s mayor said it could be primed to become an open-container district.

“It’s an evolution. I think that done properly and in the right area, like our Town Center, it could be good for Chamblee,” Mayor Eric Clarkson said. The Town Center will feature housing, retail stores and green space. “I would expect to see something like this in Chamblee come up very soon.”

Caitlin Osterhaudt, 28, and her fiance, Sean Gray, 31, pose for a portrait with their beers on Food Truck Friday during the city’s weekly summertime bash, Fridays-N-Duluth, in downtown Duluth. (Casey Sykes for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Caitlin Osterhaudt, 28, and her fiance, Sean Gray, 31, pose for a portrait with their beers on Food Truck Friday during the city’s weekly summertime bash, Fridays-N-Duluth, in downtown Duluth. (Casey Sykes for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

About 10 miles south, downtown Decatur touts a popular square surrounded by storied pubs and restaurants, which could make it a good candidate for open-container. Lyn Menne, Decatur’s assistant city manager, said city leaders have discussed the issue before, but never formally considered it.

“It’s not this burning issue that we get a lot of calls about … It’s a little difficult to look at it as a contained area,” she said, mentioning that Decatur Square sits on top of the local MARTA station, and allows open containers at certain events and festivals throughout the year. “We really focus a lot on being family-friendly.”

That’s the same reason Marietta Mayor Steve Tumlin vetoed an ordinance in May that would have made Marietta Square an entertainment district. He said allowing open containers could “have the potential” to threaten the square’s atmosphere, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported at the time.

But in metro Atlanta suburbs that have entertainment districts, some leaders say the policies have created lively gathering spots for families and young professionals.

“It’s just a very family-friendly place,” said Doug Ireland, a city councilman in Suwanee, which allows open container at its Town Center Park, surrounded by shops, restaurants and a brewery across the street. “It doesn’t seem out of place to go and enjoy a beverage.”


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It’s a similar scene in Duluth, which established an open-container policy in 2010 as a way to revitalize its downtown. Now, it hosts music and food events on Fridays at an outdoor square next to a brewery and other restaurants.

“A lot of people would be concerned that with an open-container law it would be no rules, no regulations,” said Kevin Pearson, the general manager of Good Word Brewing & Public House. But Pearson said that’s not the case.

“Basically, we have folks that will come in, wander in the bar from time to time. We let them know ahead of time, ‘We do have plastic cups if you’re interested in walking around with your beer.’ … We volunteer that ahead of time, and that’s typically what they want.”

Back in Decatur, 25-year-old resident Emma Jackson said she would personally be a fan of taking her drinks to-go around the square. But she understands why some in Decatur might not be a fan of the idea.

“My general feeling is that they probably wouldn’t want open container because they feel like it’s bringing in chaos and youth,” Jackson said. “I feel like I’m for it. Why not?”

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