Designated Drivers Drink Free At St. Landry Parish Bar

KROTZ SPRINGS, LA (AP) — With taxis few and no regularly scheduled public transportation in St. Landry Parish, club operators face a dilemma on Wednesday, one of their biggest nights of the year.

         No matter what on New Year's Eve, customers are going to drink.

         It's not unusual, then, for some bar staff to go the extra mile to make sure patrons survive into the new year.

         At Kelley's Tavern in Krotz Springs, "a designated driver doesn't pay for anything," said Jimmy Kemp, who helped build the place 18 years ago and continues to work there.

         If a driver isn't drinking alcohol, the tab will be much smaller for juice, soda or virgin drinks. And the drinkers in the party may spend a lot more on beer, wine and cocktails, knowing that they won't have to get behind the wheel.

         Kemp's commitment, though, goes way beyond dollars and cents.

         "Me and my grandson, neither one of us drink," he said. "We'll drive someone home if we have to."

         Kemp said he has delivered customers as far as New Roads and Opelousas if they've had a few too many. He's also sat up past the 2:00 a.m. closing time while intoxicated patrons wait for a ride home.

         "I've never lost one on New Year's," he said.

         As January 1, 2015 approaches, Dustin Miller, owner of Miller's Zydeco Hall of Fame in Lawtell, is offering Lil' Nate and the Zydeco Big Timers along with dollar drinks. But he's lent a hand to customers who need it, and he expects he may have to again.

         "If we have one that's too drunk, we make sure there's a friend that's driving," Miller said. "If we need to, we call a taxi service. If I have to, I'll drive 'em myself."

         He said he and his mother once drove a female customer home.

         Unlike bar and club owners in all but seven other states, those in Louisiana are not subject to so-called "dram laws" that hold them partly responsible if someone leaves under the influence. Some places that serve alcohol are more conscientious than others, and those in this story represent an unscientific sampling of the parish's many watering holes.

         Evangeline Downs, host to what will likely be the parish's biggest New Year's Eve party, enjoys an advantage other venues don't — within steps of its clubs and casino there's a hotel where intoxicated customers can spend the night if one of its 117 rooms is available.

         That's an extreme option for which the customer must pay, said David Strow, a spokesman for Evangeline Downs' parent company, Boyd Gaming Corp.

         Well before patrons might have to sleep it off on the premises, he said, the company takes other measures.

         All employees who interact with the public must take what Boyd Gaming calls "alcohol awareness training," Strow said. Bartenders and servers must learn not to over-serve customers who appear to be drunk, and security personnel know they must stop people who try to leave in that state.

         The entertainment at Evangeline Downs on Wednesday night, with Grammy winner Wayne Toups, swamp pop star T.K. Hulin and area favorite band One Trick Pony, is likely to draw crowds well before midnight. "We hope it's a very busy evening," Strow said.

         But the safe-home practices are "about more than on New Year's Eve," he added. "It's something that we think about all year." Beyond calling one of the few cab companies in the parish, employees also may call a customer's friends or family to take him or her home.

         That kind of response is a given, said Miller, owner of the dance hall in Lawtell.

         "The cool thing about the zydeco (folks)," he said, "is that somebody knows somebody who can drive 'em home." He's arrived at work after a big evening to see cars left overnight in the parking lot, knowing that the owners will have found a ride — and will return after they have sobered up.

         "That's how we do in the country," he said. "We stick together."

         – by AP/ Reporter Cheryl Devall with The Daily World

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