Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tennessee lawmaker: Enforce liquor law

Establishments must sell more food than booze By Nate Rau • THE TENNESSEAN • February 10, 2010 There are no bars in Tennessee, according to the letter of the law, which says establishments must derive a majority of their business from the sale of food in order to obtain an alcohol permit. But many businesses licensed as restaurants operate more like bars, with late-night hours and most of their sales coming from alcohol. Those establishments are violating the law and subjecting themselves to a $1,500 monthly fine. Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, wants to see the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission strictly enforce laws on the books since the state began allowing liquor-by-the-drink sales a generation ago. Todd has filed a bill that would require "restaurants" to report their food and alcohol sales monthly to the ABC board, which would then have the power to fine, or shut down, establishments failing to sell more food than alcohol. "If in fact you want an ABC license then you need to meet the requirements to attain that license," Todd said. In 2009, the ABC board collected $84,000 in fines from establishments failing to meet the minimum food service requirement. Big Bang, Tootsies Orchid Lounge, Lipstick Lounge and Hollywood Disco were among the "restaurants" that failed to derive most of their income from the sale of food. "Here's the issue: If you own anything that would be considered more of a bar than a restaurant by the average guest, you can have a kitchen, put menus on the table, you can do everything it takes to show people that you sell food, but you can't make them order food," said Austin Ray, owner of the Melrose Neighborhood Pub, which he says regularly walks the line between meeting and failing to meet the requirement on a monthly basis. New permit mentioned Todd said he introduced his legislation in response to the fallout from last year's new state law allowing permit holders to carry guns into places serving alcohol. The law was struck down by a Nashville judge, who said it was too vague since permit holders wouldn't know whether an establishment was meeting the food service requirement. Todd said he was open to re-examining the state law and perhaps creating a new bar or cabaret permit for establishments already effectively operating as bars. Will Cheek, an attorney with the Nashville firm Bone McAllester Norton, said that would be a better route for legislators to take if they were serious about addressing the issue. "It's a ridiculous requirement," said Cheek, who has represented bars across the state. "It's the exact opposite way this problem should be fixed. "The legislature should recognize these legitimate businesses with a law that allows them to serve alcohol as a bar." Todd, a retired Memphis police officer, also filed a bill to cut off the sale of alcohol and beer at midnight. Todd said he believes most alcohol-influenced crimes occur after midnight. But Sam Sanchez, owner of Sam's Sports Bar and Grill, said such a law would hurt tax collections and eliminate jobs across the state. "If I'm not mistaken, we're coming up short already in tax collections," Sanchez said. "So go ahead and come up much shorter and take away jobs while we're at it. That's not the right direction to be heading in."

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