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Bars in Cleveland, Philly prepare for later last calls and windfalls

A candidate inspired Bloody Mary menu sits outside a bar in Cleveland as the GOP Convention get underway on July 18th, 2016.
Jacob Pramuk | CNBC

Bars in Cleveland and Philadelphia are preparing for late nights of booze-fueled business with the political parties coming to town.

Rare exemptions granted by the states of Ohio and Pennsylvania are allowing local bars to extend their hours past regular limits to take advantage of a flurry of late-night business as the Republican National Convention kicked off in Cleveland on Monday, and the Democrats gather in Philadelphia next week.

The later last calls have local businesses preparing for huge windfalls of business. The conventions are scheduled to wrap up each night around 11 p.m.

"We planned like every day is going to be like St. Patrick's Day," said Stephanie Serrage, manager of Cleveland's Barley House. "Most nights the busy times will be after 11 p.m. because that's when [the convention] lets out."

The latest last call Ohio liquor permits typically allow is 2:30 a.m., however, a special exemption created by the state allows bars to apply for permission to extend their service time to 4 a.m. during the convention. More than 240 venues have been granted the exemption.

At Johnny's Little Bar in Cleveland, customers can sip on a "Dirty Hillary" or "Trump's Big Wall," both drinks named in honor of the respective Democratic and Republican presumptive nominees. The cocktails are part of a specialty menu the bar is rolling out as the RNC comes to town, and like Barley House, alcohol will flow until 4 a.m.

Johnny's manager, Alison Shafer, said her bar applied for the exemption because "we like to get rich." Shafer added she is not sure exactly what to expect but is rolling out a special late-night menu in preparation for a flurry of business.

In Philadelphia, local establishments also received a rare exception to extend their hours when the Democratic National Convention comes to town next week. In Pennsylvania, drinks typically stop being served by 2 a.m., but during the convention, approved bars will have no limitation on their hours according to Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board Communications Director Elizabeth Brassell.

The exemption for establishments in Philadelphia is seemingly narrower than in Cleveland given the venue must be hosting an event directly connected to the DNC. Still, experts predict that the later hours for qualifying bars will be good for those businesses and the local economies.

"Special events can be huge, they can be big moneymakers, they can make a business for a month or two even with their revenues," said Cheryl Stanley, who teaches beverage management at Cornell. "It's good tax revenue for the state because whether the bar is going to be busy or not they might stock up a little more."

Some restaurants and bars have been preparing far in advance for the conventions, with roughly 50,000 attendees expected for each. Serrage even said her venue has hired 10 to 15 more staff for the week.

Great Lakes Brewing Co. in Cleveland has been spending the past year preparing, according to Adam Ritterspach, who handles public relations for the brewery and pub. He said the company saw the decision to stay open later — and all of the extra overhead and staffing costs that entails — as "not even a trade-off, it just makes sense for us."

"There's going to be no shortage of people that are looking to get a beer at the end of the day," he said.

Christin Fernandez, director of media relations and public affairs at the National Restaurant Association, wrote in an email that longer opening times provide a way for venues to boost the bottom line with minimal additional costs.

However, there are certain potential drawbacks like the increased potential for rowdy customers as the hours draw later. And other factors like proximity to the conventions and accommodations will likely have a huge impact on business.

It may also be true that the rising tide of increased sales will not necessarily lift all boats. With multitudes of out-of-town delegates and media members descending on the cities, they may be less inclined to venture away from their hotel suites or popular haunts.

"For the top establishments and hotel bars, it's like Christmas three times over," said Tom Pirko, president of consulting firm Bevmark. "A lot of the neighborhood joints, they'll be surprised by how few people come by."