When a club is not a private club

by YES! Staff

It’s no secret that the state of North Carolina discriminates in its legislation against people who make their living in the retail booze business.

Bar owners in the Old North State are restricted in the hours they operate their businesses, how they advertise those businesses and the way they distribute their product. And unlike in most other states, bar actually pay more for liquor than regular citizens who buy their bottles at ABC retail stores. But the most egregious discriminatory practice against purveyors of “demon rum” is articulated in GS 18B, which mandates that establishments selling liquor by the drink, but which don’t sell food, be deemed “private clubs,” which are “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 the members of the organization and their bona fide guests.” The “private club” designation means, among other things, that tourists — even in-state tourists — cannot legally drink in North Carolina bars unless they can wait the required three days for a membership. Technically, people who come to town for the Dixie Classic Fair in Winston- Salem cannot legally stop by the Silver Moon Saloon or Elliott’s Revue for a drink. And the people who come to the Greensboro Coliseum to watch the ACC Tournament or a leg of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament are prohibited from going a mile or so down the road and having a drink at half the places on the corner of Walker and Elam. But when House Bill 2 passed last month, outlawing smoking in most public spaces and workplaces, many area bar owners were under the impression that, for once, the private club designation would work in their favor, as the wording of the bill specifically exempts private clubs. But as Triad bar owners are increasingly becoming aware, the definitionof “private club” in this legislation differs just enough from the ABCdesignation to put them on the short end of the deal once again. HB2 defines “private club” as: “A country club or an organization thatmaintains selective members, is operated by the membership… and iseither incorporated as a non-profit… or is exempt from federal incometax.” This means Elks, Kiwanis, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Knights ofColumbus and members of similar civic organizations can smoke at theirclub’s bars — and, of course, “country clubs” are specifically exemptedfrom the no-smoking policy. But North Carolina bars, whichhave largely gotten used to their second-class status as businessowners, now occupy a lower tier of “private clubs” as well.

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