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Time to kill an old law prohibiting liquor drinks on demand

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On Friday, Dec. 17 undercover agents with the state’s Alcohol Law Enforcement Division, or ALE, swept through 50 drinking establishments in Guilford County. The ALE slapped a whopping 35 of them with fines for violating the state’s alcohol laws.

Their crime: ‘“Undercover agents were allowed entry’… without being members or guests of a member.’” At YES! Weekly we’re shocked, shocked, shocked at this brazen disregard of the law.

Actually, we’re not. Some of us spend at least one night a week in bars writing about the music artists who ply their trade there, and one of us plays bass in a band. Rarely do we go in as registered members. Occasionally we might put our name on some kind of list at the door, but even that’s a rare occurrence.

The North Carolina law requiring businesses trafficking in mixed drinks and hard liquor to restrict sales to their members should be struck from the books. It’s archaic and so far removed from reality as to be absurd.

The law springs from the state’s prohibitionist temperament, but is so riddled with loopholes by now that it’s practically meaningless, aside from once every 10 months or so when the ALE musters its agents to crack down on the saloons. With fines starting at $200 per violation, an occasional bust could be considered an acceptable cost of doing business.

Of course, the country clubs, fraternal orders and veterans organizations also wanted to drink, so the General Assembly eventually wrote some legislation to allow mixed-drink permits to ‘“private clubs.’” The statute sets out some helpful suggestions for establishing one’s enterprise as a private club, but basically the field’s pretty open.

Here are just a handful of the so-called ‘“private clubs’” that ran afoul of the ALE on Dec. 17: Arizona Pete’s, Wahoo’s, Greensboro Elks Lodge 602, Club Orion, Plum Krazy’s, the Blind Tiger, Greene Street, the Rhinoceros Club and the Sky Bar.

State law defines a private club as ‘“an establishment that is organized and operated solely for a social, recreational, patriotic, or fraternal purpose and that is not open to the general public, but is open only to members of the organization and their bona fide guests.’”

Not open to the general public? Greene Street? The Sky Bar? The Blind Tiger?

The NC Alcoholic Beverage Commission, a division of the Department of Commerce also known as the ABC, writes the specific rules of which the dirty 35 ran afoul. As spelled out in an ALE press release, they are, in a nutshell: ‘“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.’”

Common bond? Uh, yeah.

The ABC can’t rewrite the rules unless the General Assembly strikes this silly language about bars being ‘“not open to the general public.’”

A number of our legislative delegates ‘— Sen. Katie Dorsett (D-Greensboro), Sen. Phil Berger (R-Eden), and Reps. Maggie Jeffus and Earl Jones, both Greensboro Democrats’ ‘—’ sit on the Senate and House Commerce committees. Give them a call and let them know you want them to uphold your right to a drink on demand.

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