Some Downtown bars now only let in patrons who have a current, valid driver's license or U.S. passport, a policy bar owners say has significantly helped improve security after a spike in violence that hit the region over the summer.
"It really helps with curbing incidents in your bar," said Jimmy Hahn, who's worked crowd control for several Downtown bars for decades.
He defended the policy against some patrons turned away who claim it unfairly bars racial minorities from entry.
"It's not racist," he said. "I turn away every race that has a (state) ID card."
State-issued IDs, as well as those issued by colleges or other entities, don't cut it for entry.
A 2005 UW-Milwaukee study found a vast racial gap when it comes to who doesn't have a driver's license: Just 17 percent of white men and women in Wisconsin lack one, compared with 55 percent of black men and 49 percent of black women. The numbers are similarly high for Latinos, the study found.
Hahn said he knows of five Downtown bars that have implemented the new policy in the latter half of the summer or this fall after consulting with police. Madison police spokesman Joel DeSpain confirmed his department was consulted and supported bar owners implementing the policy.
Mayor Paul Soglin said the city researched the legal implications of the policy and found that state law allows it.
"Our understanding is that any establishment, bar or otherwise, can do whatever it wants in terms of entry rules as long as it's not discriminatory," he said Thursday.
Ald. Mike Verveer, whose 4th District includes numerous bars, said that while some of the bars' problems with violence "largely went away overnight" after the policy went into effect, he has concerns about it.
"My concern is that it be used in a fair and equitable manner," he said. "Establishments have to apply it consistently."
Jay Wanserski, who owns Wando's, 602 University Ave., said he put the policy in place shortly after a July incident during which four of his bouncers were hospitalized when a large group of people attacked them outside the bar, the latest in what some described as an unusually violent summer Downtown.
The policy, Wanserski said, "is cut and dry. Either you have (a driver's license) or you don't."
He said it's become safer inside the bar since the policy went into place although there are still issues with people loitering and causing problems on the sidewalks and streets.
Soglin called a meeting of Downtown bar owners in September to address concerns about the heightened summer violence, which some bar owners attributed to young men coming Downtown after Scatz Sports Bar and Nightclub in Middleton was shut down by the city because of a history of violence involving patrons and police visits.
At the meeting, Verveer said the new arrivals had brought "an unprecedented level of violence" to the Downtown region.
Meanwhile, a black-owned South Side bar that was stripped of its liquor license this week is for sale, Al Lynk, the real estate agent handling the listing, said Thursday. The city revoked the license after a series of violent incidents at R Place on Park. The bar at 1821 Park St. catered to a clientele that was largely black.