A Downtown Game-Changer

Very quietly Thursday night — while many Westporters were enjoying the Italian Festival or Huey Lewis and the News — the Planning and Zoning Commission passed a text amendment.  Its impact is exponentially greater than either the annual Saugatuck fair or 50 summer nights of Levitt Pavilion entertainment.

The 6-0 vote — removing distance barriers so that more restaurants can serve alcohol — may be a game-changer.

If you’ve been in Westport a while, you know that Fairfield and South Norwalk have leapfrogged us in terms of nightlife vitality and downtown zippitude.

Back in the day, this was a thriving night spot -- housing a townie bar, an acoustic cafe and an Indian restaurant.

If you’re new to town you probably can’t imagine that once upon a time Westport was filled with hot hangouts:  bars like the Bridge Grille next door to acoustic cafes like Grassroots; taverns like Ship’s Lantern just down from dance clubs like Mark’s Place.

The loss of 4 downtown movie theaters was devastating — but so were restrictive regulations that turned Main Street, the Post Road, and across the river into nighttime ghost towns.

The P&Z’s unanimous decision won’t immediately restart our on-life-support night life.  But — coupled with changes easing permits for street fairs, and the gestating movement to bring back a movie theater — it may signal the beginning of a much-needed Main Street rebirth.

13 responses to “A Downtown Game-Changer

  1. Dan,
    By letting all of your readers know about stuff like this, you make the town government seem almost, gulp, relevant! To me, a scary thought. I never quite get what satisfaction people get out of staying up really really late arguing over minutia. I’m sure I am offending a lot of folks here, but my experience with town government has been, in general not good. I get hassled about the distance of my front porch to the road at the same time as they allow WaMu to build a bank building so close to the Post Road you can almost touch it as you drive by, in a ditch, no less (that can’t be safe)! But I digress. The decision to ease up on alcohol permits is probably a good one. While I am not an advocate of alcohol at all, as you point out, it will probably help to invigorate downtown, which is a good thing. If we had a few more bar/restaurants to go to in the evening, that would be a nice entertainment element for residents as well as visitors to our town. Now all we need to figure out is how to get at least one commercial movie theater back!

    Fact is, without 06880, I’d never know about this stuff.

  2. michael brady

    Bridge grill, Ships and all of the other now closed bars still have liquor license’s attached their property. What put them out of business was high rents. Do you know how many people purchased restaurant property at a premium because they were under the impression that no more liquor licenses would be issued now their investments are severely devalued.

    • What about the “rising tide lifts all boats” theory?

      • Michael is right. The 1,600-foot rule was in effect when those bars were in town, but were grandfathered. In the 1970s (and maybe into the early ’80s) , the town’s nightlife thrived, but much of that was because the Westport bars closed at 3 a.m., not 2 a.m. Police officers spent the majority of their evenings breaking up bar fights and responding to other calls associated with rowdy bar crowds.

  3. Fun nightlife is the only thing missing in Westport, but that is a VERY BIG THING to do without. Who wants to drive out of town or take the train to NYC just to have a little fun with friends/neighbors or to meet new people in an upbeat environment?

    There’s plenty here for kids, for families, for intellectuals and artists, for the older generation and those with more sedate tastes.

    Pleasssse bring us some friendly, hoppin’ (not crazy noisy, just enjoyably spirited) joints where we can groove, bust a move, chat and skat.

    Pretty please???!!!!

    Who knows, some of the stone walls in town might just come a-tumblin’ down!!!!

    🙂 (one can hope…)

  4. The Dude Abides

    If alcohol is an incentive to revitalize “Main Street”, who needs it? There have to be more innovative ways to spur business activity rather than getting people drunk. A movie house is a must but why not block off all traffic downtown and have people just roam around with a few jazz bands going and stores open late. Check out 6th Street in Austin if you want a happening example (minus the booze).

  5. What about opening a small arthouse movie theater? It doesnt have to be on or near Main Street.

    • There was such a theater in Sono. It did not survive. I doubt the zoning change will alter the ambiance of downtown Westport. The stores reflect the preferences of the market place. More liquor licenses will create more competition, lower profit margins, and increase the turnover in restaurants.

  6. Anon: That was a joke, right?

    • Innocent Bystander

      Maybe the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” but not much else foreign. Perhaps animated foreign flicks?