A surge of college-age people flood the bars and streets of downtown San Luis Obispo every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night starting around 11 p.m. Some just want to relax with friends; others test the limits of the law and their bodies.
Students and local bar-goers gather to socialize, drink and dance at nightlife establishments such as SLO Brewing Co., where the line to get in sometimes reaches the end of the city block on which it’s located. Other popular spots include Frog and Peach Pub, where rock and reggae bands take the stage, and Mo|Tav, where live DJs set a dance-club vibe.
Andrew Cruz has seen it all. The environmental engineering senior said he goes downtown to let loose once or twice a week.
He said he enjoys the college-town atmosphere.
“Everyone’s around the same age,” Cruz said. “Everyone’s around 21 to 24, because it is a college town — as opposed to the Bay Area, where you can get 30 year olds in there and weird 40 year olds too.”
Though the young crowd fosters a “friendly atmosphere,” some take their merrymaking to an extreme, Cruz said.
“You get the occasional drunk people that just piss on the sidewalk or throw up in Bubble Gum Alley,” he said. “They’re having too much fun.”
Alcohol-related issues might come prepackaged with college towns, but Bill Hales, who owns Mo|Tav, Frog and Peach Pub and other downtown bars, said San Luis Obispo is exceptionally manageable.
“I own bars in other college towns,” Hales said. “Without question, what makes this town unique is the quality of the students. In relation to other college towns, this is a piece of cake.”
To counteract the irresponsible behavior that does happen, 14 downtown establishments formed the Safe Nightlife Association in summer 2011. The group launched the “One 86, All 86” program in October — a collaborative effort to ban a person from all participating bars for the night after he or she is kicked out of one.
Hales said the program has been a success.
“I really think it sent a message loud and clear,” Hales said. “We have really had a problem-free school year.”
The Safe Nightlife Association also paid for extra portable restrooms and cleanup measures on St. Patrick’s Day — something Hales said they plan to do for graduation day as well.
“We wanted to show the city that we do care about what happens down here,” Hales said.
The Safe Nightlife Association’s efforts are “a great step in the right direction,” according to San Luis Obispo Police Department (SLOPD) Captain Chris Staley.
“I think it’s been a very positive move by the bar owners,” Staley said.
Still, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights are SLOPD’s busiest hours, during which the force increases the number of officers on duty from four or five to six or seven, Staley said.
He said the most common laws broken downtown are public intoxication, public urination and vandalism.
Citations for driving under the influence (DUI) are also common, Staley said. But San Luis Obispo’s rumored “zero-tolerance policy” — supposedly putting those 21 and older at the same risk for a DUI as minors — is a myth.
“Lots of rumors get started out there that have no valid basis,” Staley said.
The city enforces the same laws that apply throughout California: 0.08 percent blood alcohol content is the legal limit for those 21 and older, unless the driver shows serious signs of being impaired.
To help prevent people from driving under the influence, SLO Safe Ride, a transport service established this summer, is on call every weekend for people in need of a sober lift.
SLO Safe Ride owner Trevor Freeman said he started the business because he “just wanted to give people a ride home” but has since seen “a great response to it.”
Intoxicated patrons can be hard to deal with at times, though, he said.
“Sometimes the people we deal with don’t realize we’re doing a service for them,” Freeman said. “We definitely try to kill them with kindness and respect.”
Despite the occasional disrespectful passenger, Freeman said SLO Safe Ride has been running smoothly so far, and he is proud to be a part of it.
“I’m happy I’m doing it,” he said. “I feel like it’s a public service. It kind of protects the community.”