BY TOM DALTON
---- — SALEM — The bewitching hour in the Witch City will be 2 a.m. on New Year’s Eve.
For the second year in a row, a city that has become known for restaurants and nightlife has extended its closing hour on Dec. 31.
“It was sort of a pilot program (last year), and we didn’t have any problems,” said Licensing Board Chairman Robert St. Pierre. “That’s why there was no reluctance to extend it this year.”
Surrounding communities also have later closing hours on New Year’s Eve. Peabody and Lynn extended closing time to 2 a.m., and Marblehead added an hour, going from midnight to 1 a.m. Danvers and Beverly have their regular 1 a.m. closings.
Even though Salem businesses have an extra hour, not every liquor license holder plans to take advantage of the later closing.
“We used to do it years ago, but not recently,” said John Bertini, owner of Bertini’s restaurant on Canal Street. “Our crowd is getting older.”
The Hawthorne Hotel also plans to stick to the 1 a.m. closing.
Not everyone, it turns out, was even aware the Licensing Board had approved a 2 a.m. closing.
“I didn’t hear that,” said Steve Feldmann, owner of Gulu-Gulu Cafe, one of the most popular downtown hangouts. “That’s good news. ... I think it’s great to stay open until 2 on New Year’s Eve. It makes sense.”
Gulu-Gulu got the news late last year, as well.
“Last year, we did stay open to 2,” Feldmann said. “However, it was so last-minute when we found out, it was really difficult to promote.”
St. Pierre, who is the former police chief, said the board granted the 2 a.m. closing last year after one license-holder made the request. In an attempt to be fair, he said they extended the ruling to everyone.
In Salem, several business owners hope a 2 a.m. New Year’s Eve will become standard for a city trying to make itself a destination on the North Shore.
This year, the city is sponsoring a New Year’s Eve party in Old Town Hall. There are also parties at several restaurants and a special comedy night at the Salem Theatre Company on Lafayette Street.
Knowing there is an extra hour, “people are more inclined to stay locally instead of heading into Boston,” said Ron Brogan, owner of O’Neill’s Irish Pub on Washington Street.
“I think it’s a very nice move and shows a pro-business approach, which I applaud,” said George Carey, owner of Finz restaurant on Pickering Wharf and past president of the board of the Salem Chamber of Commerce.
Salem police support the later hour even though they have had trouble in past years with 20-something crowds at closing hour, often coinciding with the start of the fall college term.
It may help that local colleges are not in session, St. Pierre said.
“Last year, there was no problem,” said Detective Jim Page, the investigator for the Licensing Board, “so we’re keeping our fingers crossed that it will stay that way.”
Tom Dalton can be reached at email@example.com.