Tallinn city government late-night alcohol sales ban may pass this week

Interior of Tallinn's famous Valli Baar.
Interior of Tallinn's famous Valli Baar. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Tallinn city government's legal affairs committee has proposed postponing for nearly a year the entry into force of city-wide regulations which would restrict the late-night sale of alcohol, and also more clearly define what constitutes a nightclub, versus a bar, pub etc. However, daily Postimees reports that the law, already postponed from spring, is likely to come into effect this year.

The city government is to discuss the issue this Thursday; the regulations would forbid the sale of alcohol for consumption on the premises 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. in the early hours of business days, and from 3 a.m. to 7 a.m. where the morning coincides with a weekend day or holiday. 

Nightclubs would get an extra hour, from 4 a.m., the argument being that they start later and generally are not open for business during the day. 

The regulations define what a nightclub is, criteria including ticket sales, a larger internal floor space, full security inside and out, and a lack of catering aspects. 

This would mean that Old Town bars open during the day serving food and drink, transforming into a nightclub-like facility later on, replete with DJ and dance floor of some description, would not now qualify as a nightclub. 

The regulations also address a potential loophole where businesses might try to provide alcohol on the basis of tokens, entry tickets, loyalty cards or similar. 

Airport passenger points of sale, international passenger areas in Tallinn harbor, hotel minibars and as noted lobby bars and casinos are not affected by the proposed regulations. 

Other exceptions fall on New Year's eve, Independence Day (February 24) and Jaanipäev (June 24). 

Harju County, which includes Tallinn, is currently subject to a late-night alcohol ban in any case, issued by the PPA as a measure to curb the spread of COVID-19. This forbids alcohol sales between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. the next morning, but has not been rolled out nationwide; Ida-Viru County is the only other region of Estonia currently to have a similar ban.

Alcohol sales in stores remain forbidden after 10 p.m.

The regulations, in part addressing long-running complaints from local residents in central Tallinn over noise pollution and other side-effects of night spots selling alcohol into the small hours, were due to come into effect next month, but the legal committee wants to put that back to September 2021. 

At the same time, daily Postimees reports that the regulations, postponed due to the pandemic, are likely to come into effect in any case. 

"Although the situation is alarming also now, this is nevertheless a good time to set out the legislative framework and give recreational establishments a clear knowledge of what the situation will be like when the crisis is over," city council chair Tiit Terik (Center) told the newspaper.  

Terik added that Tallinn could act as an example for the rest of the country. 

"The availability of alcohol during the night is not a human right, in fact this field should be regulated nationwide instead. In Tallinn we would have not a blanket prohibition, but a restriction for a few hours during the night," he said, adding that clamping down on individual perpetrators was not effective 

"For instance, the city has litigated against ten companies situated in the so-called 'Bermuda triangle' (often known in the ex pat community as the "golden triangle" with one vertex being Club Hollywood on Vana-Posti 8 - ed.) in the Old Town and also won [the cases], but this didn't help as it is very easy for a company that has lost in court to go bankrupt and then continue business in the same place, as a new company," he went on. 

Tallinn opposition leader: Nightmare plan, 'night mayor' would be better

Opposition leader in the city council chambers Kristen Michal (Reform) has proposed creating a post of "night mayor" [sic], who would oversee Tallinn's nightlife without the need for blanket alcohol sales ban. 

"The night mayor would deal with the matter of ensuring safety on the streets during the night, plus ways to ensure peace for residents … in such way that nightclubs would not have to shut down. The draft measure lists individual bars which have been alleged to have created problems in their neighborhoods. It is not necessary to punish everyone because of these. If necessary, these individual institutions could be closed for a period of time [instead]," Michal added, noting that other cities globally have a "night mayor" or similar, which in Tallinn could be drawn from the ranks of entertainment entrepreneurs or former police chiefs. 

Michal is against the sales ban. 

Casinos and hotel lobby bars are exempt from the regulations, as things stand and if they come into force. 


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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