Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Will TBA Help Change Alcohol License Requirements in SF?

Following up on a couple of recent comments (below):

"There's a reason Chicago has a storefront theatre on every other block: the city gives them liquor licenses." - Dan Wilson

"Small theaters need any income that they can get, and this under table/BYOB shit is getting tiresome. I agree with Matthew that any help that TBA can provide in reforming SF's horribly anti-art cabaret laws would be huge step in the right direction. If we want to attract young audiences, allowing beer/wine into at the theater is an absolute requirement." - Sam Shaw

"If we can present as a collective the needs of the shows, venues and address the city and alcohol board we can find a plan to allow beer and wine to be sold legally, making money for all and making the audience happy ... I would love to talk to TBA and whomever else as well about making this possible in San Francisco." - Matthew Quinn

Now, you may be asking, why are these licenses so complicated to get? In fact, the licenses themselves are not all that difficult to procure, the problem lies in the restrictions and requirements the licenses place on the venue.

The most commonly issued liquor licenses are the following:

Type 47, On-Sale General - Eating Place (Restaurant) -- Authorizes the sale of beer, wine and distilled spirits for consumption on the licenses premises. Authorizes the sale of beer and wine for consumption off the licenses premises. Must operate and maintain the licensed premises as a bona fide eating place. Must maintain suitable kitchen facilities, and must make actual and substantial sales of meals for consumption on the premises. Minors are allowed on the premises.

Type 48, On-Sale General - Public Premises (Bar, Night Club) -- Authorizes the sale of beer, wine and distilled spirits for consumption on the premises where sold. Authorizes the sale of beer and wine for consumption off the premises where sold. Minors are not allowed to enter and remain (see Section 25663.5 for exception, musicians). Food service is not required.

The basic problem is this: Because most small theaters don't serve food (cooked on the premises), the only way to legally serve alcohol at the venue is to ban minors from the premises. (You can download a PDF of all California alcohol license types here) The other annoying thing is that each of these cost $476.00.

Now, if you want to get super specific, what actually needs to be changed, modified, or needs some kind of local exemption added to it, is Section 23038.1 of the ABC Act.

Basically we need to redefine what the government considers a "theater" and remove the clause which stipulates theaters must have a "bona fide eating place" which serves food at least %25 of the year.

The big question is, and one that was posed by Matthew Quinn in his comments above, would TBA be willing to help modify the law for the betterment of small theaters? And if not, do we, collectively (meaning the small theater operators), have the drive and follow through to do it ourselves?

To be totally honest, and this is where an organization like TBA would be a big help, I am really not sure what to do next or who to talk to about this. Do we go straight to ABC and start asking questions? Do we need a lawyer? Do we have to convince a member of the SF Board of Supervisors to support us and put the issue to vote at a Board meeting? Again, I don't know, but a group with the clout, connections and resources of TBA leading the charge would go a long way to solving this problem.

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