Lawmakers pressure ABC to crack down on bars in state
Posted: Monday, May 10, 2010 8:01 pm
NASHVILLE (AP) — The Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission has begun to suspend the licenses of bars that sell little or no food.
The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports Tennessee’s liquor-by-the-drink law doesn’t recognize bars, only restaurants, and serving meals is supposed to be “the principal business conducted” in those establishments. But, in fact, bars have been allowed to operate for years.
The contradiction is part of what led Nashville Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman to strike down a 2009 law letting handgun-carry permit holders bring guns into places serving alcohol.
The law sought to exclude guns from establishments that predominantly serve alcohol, not food. But, legally, those establishments aren’t supposed to exist.
ABC Chairman John Jones said lawmakers’ ire over Bonnyman’s decision is what has prompted the commission to get tough with bars. In February, the panel suspended the licenses of a Nashville club named Trax, and late last month it did the same to Nashville’s Buckwild Saloon.
“We are under the microscope of some members of the Tennessee General Assembly who have expressed the desire and concern that the commission act on food service audits,” Jones said as the panel voted to suspend Buckwild’s license for 90 days.
Buckwild’s owner, Eddie Eanes, complained in vain to commissioners that he was being “thrown under the bus.”
ABC policy states that an establishment deriving 50 percent or more of its sales from food is presumed to be operating as a full-service restaurant.
But ABC Director Danielle Elks also said that under a 1983 decision by ABC’s board, if food sales are less than 50 percent, the commission can look at other factors. Those include whether the business is advertised as a place where meals are served and whether it maintains adequate kitchen equipment, a 75-person seating capacity and sufficient employees to prepare and serve “suitable” food.
Testimony showed Buckwild had food sales of less than 5 percent during a several-month period in 2007 and again in 2009, yet it had been relicensed. And the ABC has relicensed any number of other establishments with food sales percentages in the single digits.
Meanwhile, handgun-carry proponents are trying to pass another version of the bill to allow permit holders to bring their guns into establishments serving alcohol. The Senate voted 23-9 on Thursday to approve a measure that does not attempt to distinguish between restaurants and bars, but establishments are allowed to opt out by posting notices that guns are prohibited on premises.
The bill would maintain an existing prohibition on drinking alcohol while carrying a gun.
A House vote is scheduled for Wednesday.
Published in The Messenger 5.10.10