The Huntington Beach Police Department is restricting Baja Sharkeez' entertainment hours in an effort to curb alcohol consumption at the restaurant.
A Feb. 8 letter from Police Chief Ken Small informed Sharkeez management that beginning in March, bands, deejays or any kind of entertainment will have to conclude by 11 nightly.
The announcement by the Police Department, which issues entertainment permits, came after the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, or ABC, opened an investigation Jan. 21.
The ongoing investigation was launched after Small sent a letter to ABC saying the restaurant's management has a careless attitude toward drinking and driving.
The restriction on entertainment will not limit Sharkeez' alcohol service, which goes on until 1:30 a.m. when the restaurant closes. But Small said it's likely to curb alcohol consumption, which goes hand-in-hand with entertainment.
"When establishments like Sharkeez offer entertainment, we find that there is more consumption of alcohol," Small said. "So to the extent that we limit the hours, I think it will affect the consumption of alcohol."
Sharkeez owner Ron Newman said he is in the process of meeting with Small and other members from the Police Department to share some ideas he and his staff came up with to curb alcohol consumption and problems in downtown.
The restaurant will stop serving large cups or pitchers of alcohol at midnight. Single-size drinks will be served from midnight until the last call, Newman said. The restaurant is also in the process of partnering with a cab company to offer vouchers to take customers home, he said.
"We just looked at everything and we said, 'We can't argue about what we think we're doing right,' and obviously the other side doesn't think we're doing everything right," Newman said. "We said it's time to take a look and come up with a plan that we think will work."
Aside from posting signs and wearing pins with a message about the consequences of drinking and driving, Newman said restaurant staff will remind people throughout the night not to drink and drive. Newman said he's also researching whether he can carry a breathalyzer at the restaurant and allow staff to measure customers' alcohol blood level before they get their last drink at 1:15 a.m.
"We're hoping that we could be leaders and make a difference," he said. "If it works good with us, we're going to get the other bars to do the same thing. We want to get rid of that image that the city is No. 1 in DUI."
Newman said he's going to ask Small to give Sharkeez a 90-day trial period to see if his proposed measures work. Limiting the entertainment hours will not curb alcohol problems downtown, but it will hurt Sharkeez' competing abilities because customers will be diverted to the next bar that offers entertainment beyond 11 p.m., he said.
If the Police Department insists on limiting the entertainment hours, Newman said, he will appeal it to the City Council.
Police recently reviewed crime reports, arrest logs, ABC violations, entertainment permit violations and calls for police services related to Sharkeez, the letter said.
They found that the incidents and violations occurred mainly during the late night hours, Small said in the letter.
"The Police Department's goals is to enhance and maintain public safety in our community," Small wrote. "We believe this modification to your entertainment permit is both justified and necessary in light of this goal."
The restaurant produces the highest number of drunk drivers of any downtown restaurant in Huntington Beach, according to a recent Police Department review. In a 22-month period, police arrested 72 Sharkeez customers for drinking and driving.
The new hours will go into effect March 1 in conjunction with the restaurant's entertainment permit renewal, according to the letter.