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Editorial: Tourists like to drink

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It happened earlier this month: an orchestrated sting operation hatched by the Greensboro Police Department and NC Alcohol Law Enforcement agency targeting the downtown portion of the city. Its intent was to bring bars and retail establishments into line with current statutes regarding the sale of alcohol to minors and those in the gray area between 18 and 21 – certainly a necessarily enforceable piece of the criminal code. And in that way the sting was a success, netting nine busts of retail establishments that sold beer to underage solicitors and three downtown bars where underage patrons were able to buy alcoholic beverages. But five other downtown bars – Inferno, Greene Street, El Paraiso II, the Rhinoceros Club and Longshanks – were also netted in the sting, not because they were serving minors or breaking fire code violations. They were cited because bars are illegal in the state of North Carolina. You’d be hard-pressed to see any evidence of this, as you can buy a drink in pretty much every neighborhood in the state save for those in its four dry counties. But there is no such thing as a public house – a place with beer, wine and spirits open to the general legal-age public – even as M’Coul’s Public House continues to operate on the corner of Elm and McGee streets. M’Coul’s serves food, which places it in a different category – it’s a restaurant, meaning it’s allowed to serve alcohol to anyone with a valid ID and enough money to pay for the round. But the aforementioned violators of the state’s ABC laws don’t serve food, unless you count the cherries and olives in the garnish tray. And as such they are deemed second-class citizens, bearing the status of “private club.” Only private clubs can sell spirits – that is, cocktails and drinks made from distilled, bottled alcohol – without the benefit of a food menu. We’ve climbed this tree before in this space with a piece run after the December 2005 raids on 50 Greensboro night spots that netted 35 violations, but we’ll recap for new readers. From an ALE press release: “Private clubs must restrict access to their facility to persons with a common bond that complete a membership application and wait three days before receiving membership.” What common bond do the patrons of Greene Street share? A love of booze, rock music and ass? Last go-round we labeled the current law as “archaic” and “absurd.” This time we’re focusing on a different aspect of the seldom-enforced statute: the notion of Southern hospitality. It’s true that the Triad is not exactly a tourist mecca, but we do get large crowds of people in town for golf and basketball tournaments and the Furniture Market, and untold thousands who come in for weddings, to visit relatives, scope out colleges or see the sights. And as it stands, these visitors are not legally allowed to go to a dance club or a bar. Because we don’t have dance clubs or bars. We have private clubs. And they operate at a huge disadvantage to their restaurant brethren, if only in the fines they must pay – starting at $200 – every time the ALE does a sweep. It’s ridiculous. And everybody knows it. But the only way to shake the status quo is to wipe the legislation from the books and start over. We’re cynical enough to assume that public outcry can do nothing in this situation. So that leaves it up to the bar owners – ahem, private club owners – to conjoin their efforts in a political action committee and use the money they’ve been spending on fines, heretofore considered the price of doing business, to facilitate some real change.

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