RNC 2024: Later Milwaukee bar close passes Assembly, part of overhaul

The Wisconsin Assembly on Wednesday, June 21 passed a sweeping measure that could streamline and update the laws governing the states' liquor industry.

Part of the measure would allow bars in 14 southeastern Wisconsin counties to stay open two hours longer than the current 2 a.m. limit during the Republican National Convention next summer in Milwaukee.

"A 4 a.m. bar time, I think the economic impact is going to be incredible for everyone," said Jack Roman, co-owner of Third Street Tavern. "There's always the opportunity. You don't have to be open that long, but for some models and for some people, I think there's just a ton of money that can be brought in."

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Roman said he's ready for the change.

"I think the impact just of the city and the hospitality is going to be great, and we're bringing in people from all over the country and all over the world who might be interested and might be used to something a little more and a little later, so that will definitely be exciting for us as operators here in the city," said Roman.

Why so late? With 50,000 visitors, people will be staying in hotels across the region – and events go late.

"Your whole day gets pushed late into the night, and if the bars close at 2 o'clock, and you're not getting out of the arena until 11:30, midnight, by the time the crowd lets you get out, it really shortens the amount of available time to have these other events," said Sachin Chheda, who attended Democratic National Conventions in 2012 and 2016. "I think the idea here is, especially for downtown, but all across Milwaukee, we want to make sure that people who are visiting our city, visiting our community, have a chance to go out and have a great time. Tavern culture is part of Milwaukee, and just having a couple of extra hours will make the schedule work a lot better, considering the national TV schedule.

"I'm not going to vote for the Republican candidate for president, but I hope that the Republicans from across the country, all 50 states, and all of our territories, come to visit Milwaukee, see what an amazing city we have. They tell their friends, tell their families. They tell their co-workers, come on a vacation here. Check out the lakefront. Check out our wonderful people. Check out our wonderful businesses. It gives our city a chance to shine."

"This is an exciting time for Milwaukee," said Roman. "It's possibly, and I'm going to say once-in-a-lifetime, although this is kind of twice now."

In 2020, the Wisconsin Legislature considered a bill to keep bars open until 4 a.m. for the Democratic National Convention, something the coronavirus pandemic stopped.

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The massive overhaul to the laws affecting the production, distribution and sale of alcohol passed with broad bipartisan support. The measure now heads to the Senate for final approval. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who was involved with discussions of the measure, is expected to sign it into law. It would also create a new statewide bartender license; currently, bartenders are licensed by local municipality, a system that proponents of the change argued is cumbersome. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.