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War on fun?
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Though it has been on the books for some time, the city of Covington only recently began enforcing an alcohol ordinance which required the removal of all "machines operated for amusement" from bars serving hard liquor.

The forced removal of pool tables, dart boards, pinball machines, video game machines, etc. has not gone over well with local bar owners who say the removal of the machines has greatly harmed their businesses.

"It destroyed my business. It totally destroyed it," said Shirley Spencer, owner of the Double G's Sports Bar and Grill on U.S. Highway 278.

Spencer gave up her hard liquor license earlier this week so that she could have her pool tables back. She will now only sell beer and wine in her bar.

Before she had to remove her pool tables and dart boards over a month ago, Spencer said her establishment was regularly filled with seven pool teams and three dart teams who practiced at the Double G's, but that once the game machines were removed she saw patronage drop off significantly.

"Some people, that's all they want to do, have a few beers, shoot pool and shoot darts. That's their enjoyment," Spencer said. "The people are very lonely; they don't want to go sit at a restaurant or a bar where there's nothing to look at but a TV."

 It's Five O'clock Somewhere owner Debbie Harris - who opened the establishment in the Kmart shopping center on U.S. Highway 278 in April with her husband Mike - says her bar has been without dart boards and video games for five weeks now.

The loss of the dart boards - which drew eight local dart teams to her bar for competitions on Wednesday nights and also to practice throughout the week - has resulted in a weekly shortfall of between 50 to 100 regular patrons Harris said.

Spencer and Harris both said that they have seen their customers leave their bars to shoot pool and play darts at bars in Conyers which does allow the gaming machines.

A large pool balcony at T.J.'s Rockin Country Bar and Grill on Old City Pond Road sits empty as well. Operations manager Terry Johnson said he had had the balcony built specifically to accommodate four pool tables for his large bar/concert hall, but that the balcony will likely remain empty unless the city amends its ordinance because he does not want to give up his liquor license either.

According to Johnson, it was his plans for the pool balcony which touched the whole thing off. When city officials informed him that he wasn't allowed to have pool tables if he was going to be serving liquor, he pointed out that several other city bars also had pool tables and were serving liquor.

However Spencer said she was not made aware of that part of the ordinance when she bought the bar and grill two and a half years ago when it was then known as Fat Boy's.

"I guess I didn't read it. I bought the bar as it was. He (the previous owner) operated it as a bar, and it had that stuff in it so I didn't think anything about it," Spencer said.

Spencer isn't alone in her confusion over the ordinances.

The bulk of the city's 30-page alcohol ordinance was written in 1982 when a June public referendum was passed which allowed the sale of alcoholic beverages by the drink for on-premises consumption.

The city of Covington doesn't specifically have any ordinances related to bars. The ordinance expressly permits the sale of alcoholic beverages for on-site consumption to only restaurants, hotel lounges, private clubs and golf clubs. Until now what the public would commonly assume to be bar-type establishments have fallen under the ordinance umbrella of restaurants.

The ordinance requires that the proceeds from food sales total at least 51 percent of an establishment's profits while alcohol sales cannot total more than 49 percent.

The ordinance states that "the serving of such meals and food shall be the principal business conducted, with the serving of alcoholic beverages to be consumed on the premises as only incidental thereto."

The ordinance also requires that all alcohol sales cease between the hours of 12:45 a.m. and 8 a.m. This is one hour earlier than Conyers' alcohol ordinance which allows for the sale of alcohol at bars until 2 a.m.

City officials interviewed said they could not speak authoritatively on the ordinances because they were written prior to their employment with the city.

"Anyone wishing to challenge it can go before the mayor and council," said Covington City Manager Steve Horton. "Until that happens, we're going to enforce the ordinance."

A challenge to the ordinances definitely seems to be brewing among local bar owners and the patrons who frequent their establishments.

"I think it's antiquated. I think it's not even in the 21st century," said Harris of the city's ordinance. "It's not really fair to the citizens of Covington. They have a right to entertainment."

Harris said she was currently in discussions with her attorney as to the best way to go about amending the city's ordinances so as to allow for the presence of pool tables, and dart boards in establishments which also sell liquor.

Spencer speculated that the lack of a proper bar ordinance which would allow for pool tables and the like could result in bar owners taking their business to Conyers.

"I think the people of Covington should be able to vote and voice their opinion about it, not just a selected few," Spencer said. "I've been talking to people and I'm trying real hard to see if we can get it done. I want to do it the legal and the right way.

"This city's growing and I don't want to take my business somewhere else but a lot of people will sooner or later, even I will," Spencer said.