Beverage laws vary from town to town

By Thomas Wilson

   Citizens in the town of Jonesborough made a historic decision in November when they narrowly approved a referendum allowing establishments to serve mixed drinks on premises.
   The decision dropped another domino in the Tri-Cities region as the fourth municipality voting for liquor-by-the-drink. Many communities throughout the state strongly oppose allowing mixed drinks to be served in their town.
   While "brown bagging" or "BYOB" still exists in many city counties, the notion of liquor-by-the-drink often gives rise to thoughts of roughneck bars rather than chain restaurants such as an O'Charley's or Outback. However, if one is speaking strictly to the presence of establishments serving mixed drinks, liquor-by-the-drink already exists in Elizabethton.
   The License
   Four establishments located in Carter County currently hold a "private club" license from the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission (ABC) to sell wine and mixed drinks. The Captain's Table restaurant, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #2166, Moose Club, and Elks Lodge hold liquor licenses issued by the ABC.
   "We see it as an extra service we can offer customers," said Kathy Taylor, general manager of The Captain's Table and Lakeshore Resort Marina at Watauga Lake. The picturesque resort and restaurant overlook scenic Watauga Lake where thousands of visitors congregate each summer to enjoy boating, fishing, or lying in the sun.
   Private clubs are required to pay a $300 annual fee for their license to the Commission. The Commission strictly prohibits advertising the sell or liquor by private club owners.
   According to state law, a restaurant with the LBD license must have a seating capacity of at least 75 tables, supplied with adequate kitchen and dining room equipment and have the serving of food as the establishment's principal business.
   Permits are required for all employees of private clubs or restaurants who serve alcoholic beverages to the public. Employees must be 18 years of age to serve liquor and must obtain an employee work permit card at a fee of $5 per card. After receiving their temporary permit card, a server has 30 days to take a server training class to receive their permanent card.
   The Entrepreneur
   The Doe River Bistro opened its doors on West F Street in Elizabethton in January.
   Owner Matt Clark spent 12 years in the restaurant industry before opening his own place that is carving its niche in the dinner night spot. Open for lunch Monday through Friday, the bistro recently added a Thursday to Friday and Saturday night dinner schedule due to customer demands.
   "A lot of people who live here have trouble finding the place," said Clark, an Elizabethton High School graduate who has created an atmosphere and menu reminiscent of upscale eateries typically associated with Johnson City and Bristol. "I saw it as something that needed to be developed in the downtown area."
   The bistro permits brown bagging at dinner for customers who want to enjoy a quality merlot or zinfandel with their entrees. An option, he says, is drawing patrons from around the Tri-Cities area.
   Like many locals, Clark is concerned about the loss of jobs in the community as well as a stumbling national economy. He doesn't have a strong opinion one way or the other about liquor-by-the-drink. However, he knows the city and county face an uphill battle in funding services to citizens unless new revenue streams are created. Clark points to the development of downtown Asheville where a vibrant cultural and commercial scene now flourishes.
   "Industry is down in America," he said. "Elizabethton has to keep their direction to the tourist industry.
   "When you do something in the tourist district, you've got to bring festivals and entertainment, and you've got to be willing to sacrifice traffic problems to bring in the tourists."
   The Regulators
   The Alcoholic Beverage Commission issues licenses for the sale of liquor to restaurants, clubs and package stores.
   The Commission issues liquor licenses for restaurants and package stores. Restaurants pony up an annual fee of $600 to $1,000 -- depending on their seating capacity -- to obtain a liquor-by-the-drink license from the Commission. An applicant seeking to serve liquor in a private club pays a fee of $300, according to the ABC.
   The Carter County Beer Board and Elizabethton Beverage Board issue licenses to sell beer on-premises of a business or for carry out. Neither the city council nor city administration has any role in initiating, passing or implementing a petition for liquor-by-the-drink or liquor stores.
   Quick Stop Market to the Mountain View Beverage Shop and the Elk Mills General Store are among the 15 businesses holding off-premises beer permits by the county Beverage Board. While rare, each board has meted out punishment to businesses for selling alcoholic beverages to minors over the years.
   Johnson City voters approved the existence of liquor stores, or package stores, by referendum in 1967. Voters approved liquor-by-the-drink in 1980. The referendum was appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court, which effectively ratified the referendum in favor of Johnson City in 1982.
   Restaurants with the BYOB offer and private club membership such as the Ambassador Lodge on Roan Street were the sole establishments of liquor sales in Johnson City until the referendum passed.