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August 24, 2020

Bars are having to play by three sets of rules

As if owning a business during a pandemic isn’t hard enough

Friday left me wondering how bar owners are staying positive — and in business. On Thursday night and Friday morning, we learned from several bar owners that each of them had been told that private bars and clubs were not allowed to operate. After owners reached out to Alcohol Law Enforcement for clarification, even more confusion ensued.

Some confusion is expected, as the executive order announcing phase two is somewhat contradictory about private bars. (Learn more about private bars and how they differ from restaurants.) When that confusing law is left up to three different enforcement agencies to interpret on their own, the city’s bars pay the price.

We spoke to ABC Law Enforcement Director Kevin Stone, who shared that three agencies all have the same jurisdiction when it comes to alcohol sales in Mecklenburg County: CMPD’s ABC unit, ALE, and Stone’s group.

From what we can piece together, CMPD was advised that private memberships are not allowed to be open despite serving food. That is counter to what all three agencies had been enforcing in the past; instead, they were considering whether a private bar acted more like a restaurant than a bar — think Dot Dot Dot versus Thirsty Beaver. CMPD suddenly began notifying bars of this, leaving ALE answering calls about the sudden change of course and Stone’s group to believe there was an amendment to the executive order that his agency hadn’t been made aware of.

As private bars with full kitchens looked to pivot — once again — despite successful operations for 11 weeks, private bars were given suggestions that included temporarily forfeiting liquor licenses, reapplying for a restaurant mixed beverage license, or shutting down.

As these businesses struggle to simply remain in business, they’re now being asked to try and play by the rules of three agencies’ varying interpretations of an executive order that has been called contradictory from day one.

We hope you’ll continue supporting these establishments in any way you can — through gift cards, takeout, cocktail kits, or dining in. Right now, it seems their customers are the only ones doing what they can to keep these places in business.

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