If a freshly prepared economic affairs ministry draft law were to enter into force, the government could start to restrict alcohol consumption in addition to sales, meaning bar managers would be obligated to ensure that consumption stops at an establishment from a certain point of time at night.
As per the government's order, alcohol can not be sold from midnight until 7 a.m. across the country. This regulation is commonly established in bars and all entertainment venues equally.
However, some hostelries and their patrons have been trying to circumvent the rules, including racking up huge drinks orders just ahead of sales ban time, allowing customers to bring their own grog, or holding lock-ins, passed off as private parties.
Unlike in pubs in the United Kingdom, for instance, there is no "drinking up time" after sales end, meaning this is currently technically not illegal.
Vadim Kuperštein, head of Tallinn's city center (Kesklinn) police station, told ERR: "Every time we do spot checks, it turns out that three or four establishments are trying to avoid the restriction in some capacity."
Bars and night club have found alternative options as well.
Kuperštein said: "Occasionally, when checking on establishments, we can see that there is alcohol on the tables but we are told that clients bought ten glasses of beer at 11.59 p.m., and are still drinking at 2 a.m."
He added that it might still be possible to buy alcohol in some locations without breaking the law.
Kuperštein said: "Quite often, we chance upon a scene where employes tell us they are having a private party, and doors are closed, but we see clients on the premises and alcohol being sold. But since it is a private party, there is no violation."
Rakvere city official Magnus Lehesoo, who also manages a night club, said he has found a third solution. "We just allow people to bring in their own alcohol. We can still sell non-alcoholic drinks and snacks, that gives us something in return. Each party also has a ticket which the person must acquire to enter our party. That is where we earn just a little bit of money," the city official said.
Lehesoo noted that a party lasting until after midnight helps the bar manager keep their budget near in balance. "I see that the opportunity should be used as much as possible. Otherwise it could lead to closures. I really do not want that," he said.
Late-night drinking would also be banned
The draft law prepared by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications would create a options to limit parties, however.
Merike Koppel, adviser of trade and services at the ministry, said: "The point of this law is to give an option to ensure public order by restricting consumption."
Koppel explained that the definition of public order is also broad, with one scenario being mass disturbances.
However, the coronavirus pandemic was the motivation behind the draft law. "If we are keeping two meters distance with each other today, wear our masks, avoid contact, that we would not go to an entertainment establishment later at night where these rules just as if did not apply. Or at least, they are forgotten after alcohol is consumed," Koppel noted.
She emphasized that this would be the only measure of its kind: "It would certainly not be the first thing, that we would give out orders of restricting consumption or sales at all. These restrictions are necessary for certain reasons."
Club owner: We have been left out in the cold
Magnus Lehesoo said he doubts anyone will begin breaking the law, meaning that if restrictions are made stricter, club and bar managers must simply go along with it.
Lehesoo said: "Then there is nothing to do, doors will also close. And I think they will remain closed for good for quite a few clubs. Survival would be quite difficult."
He estimates that entrepreneurs have not been irresponsible when finding ways round the late-night alcohol sales ban currently in place. "What is irresponsible, is that the sector has been left completely ignored by both the national government and local municipalities. The lack of interest from those bodies is complete," the Rakvere nightclub-owner-cum-city official said.
Lehesoo said he feels as if government thinks that managing a bar is an easy task: "We are actually working really hard, 365 days a year."
As a rule, the ministry responsible for a draft law must also assess the effect on entrepreneurship. Merike Koppel said there are no concrete numbers just yet, but noted that the effects of an amendment would be considerable.
Koppel explained: "The economic effect can not be too great, if I can not sell alcohol but allow people bring their own in."
If the consumption ban is put into force, the police must also monitor it being met. If rules are broken at an entertainment venue, punishment may await. In essence, this would mean that if the clock hits a certain time, bar managers must make sure that none of the clients would have another sip.
Koppel concluded: "It is difficult for me to say at this time how it would look at precisely midnight. It is certainly very complicated in practice and it could create situations that will cause confusion for both the consumer and the establishment."
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste