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Lids for cocktails inspire critics

Councilor sees way to seal out date-rape drugs

A cocktail cover displayed at a City Council meeting. A cocktail cover displayed at a City Council meeting. (JOHN TLUMACKI/GLOBE STAFF)

Saying it's a novel way to protect bar patrons from date-rape drugs and other substances that can be slipped into drinks, a city councilor wants bars in Boston to start serving cocktails sealed with plastic covers.

A measure by Stephen J. Murphy proposes that the city require -- or at least encourage -- bars to make available thin plastic membranes, about the size of a coaster, that are designed to seal the mouth of a glass.

The aim is to deter predators looking to put drugs into the drinks of intended victims. Proponents add that the devices also prevent spills during nightclub dancing.

"It's simplistic," Murphy said of the covers. "But it's ingenious in its simplicity."

The covers require that drinkers pierce the covers and imbibe through a straw, a notion that produced some skepticism about how well they would be received.

"You can't drink a martini with a straw!" said Charles M. Perkins, who runs the Boston Restaurant Group. "It just wouldn't be the same. It would be a real turnoff to people."

"That would crush the umbrella, wouldn't it?" said Dan Pokaski, chairman of the Boston Licensing Board. "I don't see people doing it."

Critics say adding a flimsy plastic cover would remove the cachet from holding a gin and tonic. Carrying a cosmopolitan classic suddenly isn't so sophisticated with a protec tive covering, and something seems lost when you have to remove a piece of plastic to get to the pineapple spear in your pina colada.

"How am I going to get the olive out of my martini with a cocktail cover?" Councilor John Tobin said jokingly. "How about we do crazy straws, like the squiggly ones? Or why don't we just give everyone a thermos, or a fanny pack that you slide your drink into?"

But Murphy, and three other councilors who signed on to the proposal yesterday, say some type of cover is a necessary deterrent for what Murphy said is an increased number of drink-tampering incidents among college-age patrons.

"I know that it's happening," Murphy said, before quickly adding, "not that I'm in that scene anymore."

Police do not have statistics on drink-tampering cases but say they have been focusing on the issue .

"It's not an overwhelming problem, but for the few that we have, it's troubling," said Deputy Superintendent Margot Hill, commander of the Police Department's Family Justice Division. "Anything that brings awareness to the issue is a good thing."

Murphy, who got the idea for the measure after watching an "NBC Dateline" special on date-rape drugs, wants the city to consider mandating that bar owners make the covers available.

The city could also offer incentives, such as a reduction in property taxes or license fees.

After a brief discussion before the council yesterday, the proposal was sent to the Committee on Public Safety.

The cocktail covers that Murphy is championing were designed by Greg Barry, a 51-year-old Hampton resident who has been working on the concept for about a year. Barry has approached bar owners, but few have been interested .

Barry said it would cost between 1 and 10 cents for each cocktail cover, depending on how many are produced. He's hoping to add advertising on the covers that would offset the production costs.

"It's all about individual choice," said Alan Eisner, executive director of the Massachusetts Hospitality Association .

"Having the covers as an option for those who want it probably makes good sense, and as long as we keep it optional I have no problem with that."

Matt Viser can be reached at maviser@globe.com.

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