The great cover charge debate

Late night, just shy of last call in Bowling Green, the downtown streets can be a sight to behold. Sidewalks turn into a mural of the discarded. Cigarette butts, loogeys and the occasional sequin from a lacy tank top wait to be walked through for one more hour. It’s after 1:30 a.m. Last call. As bars around the area try to beef up their live entertainment, spendthrift stragglers show up when the bar staff is winding down. The over-21 crowd tries to duck undercover cover charges. Kady Weith, 21, budgets for a door charge when she can. ‘I usually never go out before 1:30, except maybe once a month,’ she said. But this poses a problem for those on the other side of the transaction. Local and national acts won’t play for free, then there’s the bartenders, promoters and other staff that depend on the size of the crowd for their tips. Shane, who works at Howard’s three nights a week, says that ‘maybe one in 15’ turn and walk out when they hear the bar’s cover charge. ‘Yeah we get gripes and complaints, but they usually pay. We try not to turn anyone away,’ he said. Last Saturday, Howard’s Club H asked an $8 cover at the door for the band lineup that night, a fee decided on by as many as three different groups. The band, the promoter, the band’s label and sometimes the owner of the bar itself have a say in what customers pay to walk through the threshold to a parallel universe. One where casual acquaintances turn to best friends or fair weather friends turn into sworn enemies. As national acts tour through Bowling Green on their way from Cleveland to Detroit, some demand a guarantee, a set amount of money that the band will be paid at the end of the show. ‘You have to convince them that we’re in the middle of Ohio, and that much is stupid,’ said Maurice, who explained that the record label wants Howard’s to bring in more money than is possible, even on a weekend night. At the Easy Street Caf’eacute;, owner Vic Pirooz remembers when a band had traveled all the way from Cleveland during a winter snow storm to play at the upstairs bar, Grumpy Dave’s Pub. After lugging their equipment up to the second floor, Pirooz couldn’t believe a group of students holding up signs to boycott the cover charge. But he does understand these students wanted the most for their money. ‘When the cover is five bucks, and you only have 10 to spend for the night, that’s a big chunk out of it. Especially when you throw in a tip for the bartender,’ he said. Once in a while, Pirooz will use his cover charging powers for good deeds. Fundraising organizations can rent the bar upstairs and charge a ‘donation’ for their specific cause. On the ground floor, Easy Street has given 20 percent of food sales to groups like the BG Christian Food Pantry or, later this month, the Bowling Green Schools Foundation and the American Cancer Society. Giving donations to this group is worthwhile for Pirooz, but still tough, as people coming in to eat are watching their wallets. But Dan, the bartender at Howard’s said that it may be the amount of bars in town that is to blame for some slower nights and not cover charge cash. ‘When the drinking age was raised to 21, that’s when the days of Howard’s being packed went down, 75 percent of campus could no longer drink. We used to be the only student car in town, now there are around 16,’ he said. Dan also says that even though the crowds might be smaller sometimes, his tip cup isn’t just sitting around, collecting dust. And neither are the throats of his customers.