Monday, May 21, 2018
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Liquor laws limit taverns' holiday spirits

New Year's Eve revelers who plan to do their partying Sunday in a bar might be hard pressed to find one that sells hard liquor.

State records show that 21 percent of Lucas County's bars - 137 of 645 - won't be allowed to sell liquor on New Year's Eve because of laws pertaining to Sunday alcohol sales.

In Wood County, 70 percent of the bars - 90 of 129 - are forbidden from selling liquor on Sundays.

Many of those establishments, depending on local ordinances, will be allowed to serve beer after 1 p.m. Sunday, though. That means you could be sitting in a place that's beer-only until the stroke of midnight. Then the spirits can come out.

And, if you're hosting a party, it might be wise to stock up in advance. About 59 percent of Lucas County's carryouts and 73 percent of those in Wood County are not licensed to sell alcohol on Sunday.

In essence, it's business as usual, regardless of the holiday.

Taverns and carryouts licensed to sell beer, wine, and liquor on Sundays will be allowed to do so - but no exceptions were made to let other establishments cash in on the New Year's revelers.

“It's not a New Year's Eve issue. It's a Sunday sales issue,” said Bill Teets, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Commerce's Division of Liquor Control.

Liquor control officials are not allowed to make such provisions, even if they wanted, Mr. Teets said.

It's business as usual in Michigan too, with one exception - taverns are allowed to stay open until 4 a.m., two hours past the normal closing time.

Closing time in Ohio is 2:30 a.m. for many establishments. Certain restaurants and taverns have licenses that require them to close by 1 a.m.

Michigan's exception is written into its state law. It is for New Year's Day only and does not apply to carryouts, said Adele Bancroft, spokeswoman for the Michigan Liquor Control Commission.

She did not know how many of the 138 taverns in Monroe County or the 93 in Lenawee County are licensed to be open on Sundays, she said.

Chris Miller, president of the Ohio Licensed Beverage Association in Columbus, which represents taverns and other alcohol outlets, said he's never understood why it's easier to buy a beer on a Sunday than it is a glass of wine or a mixed drink.

But that's just one of the oddities of Sunday liquor sales. And the beverage association isn't doing anything about it, he said.

“We have much bigger battles to wage,” Mr. Miller said.

Arnie Elzy, president of a local chapter called the Northwest Ohio Licensed Beverage Association, said area tavern owners learned their lesson in 1995, which is the last time New Year's Eve fell on a Sunday.

Tavern owners grumbled about the licenses, but they learned the state wouldn't change its rules, Mr. Elzy said. Taverns that wanted to upgrade to a Sunday permit have done so, he said.

“Nobody has talked to me about it this year,” said Mr. Elzy, owner of Arnie's Eating & Drinking Saloon on West Central Avenue.

People have responded to tougher drunk-driving laws by booking a room at a hotel and partying without getting in a car. Some bar owners have responded by taking a less-than-enthusiastic attitude toward the night themselves.

Doug Sfaelos, who has owned Andre's Lounge on Summit Street since 1973, said he can't justify applying for a Sunday liquor license. His tavern will be closed on New Year's Eve, as it is every Sunday.

“New Year's Eve used to be big. It's not anymore,” he said.

Chris Miller, president of the Ohio Licensed Beverage Association in Columbus, said hotel and private parties have increased, while bar business is down.

“Ten years ago, it [New Year's Eve] would have carried me through a slow January,” said Mr. Miller, who owns three taverns in central Ohio. “That's not the case anymore.”

Some are even passing up the chance to rake in extra money.

Bill Anderson, owner of Dale's Bar & Grille in Maumee's uptown district, keeps his tavern closed on Sundays even though he said he has a Sunday beer-only permit. He said the tavern won't be open this Sunday just because it's New Year's Eve.

“I'm not that money hungry. There's more to life,” he said.

He and others said New Year's Eve is overrated in terms of bar receipts, largely because of the competition with hotels and private parties.

“If it was St. Patrick's Day, that would be different. That's our biggest day,” Mr. Anderson said.

What about sly tavern owners who break the rules?

They face the possibility of losing their liquor licenses, going to jail, and paying hefty fines.

Earl Mack, who supervises the Ohio Department of Public Safety's liquor enforcement in the Toledo area, said a charge of illegal sales of liquor is a first-degree misdemeanor that allows the state to revoke the owner's license, plus take action that could land the owner in jail for up to six months. The maximum fine for that offense is $1,000.

In addition to illegal sales, agents will be scouring the area on New Year's Eve for bar owners who serve patrons who are obviously drunk. The maximum penalty for an excessive consumption charge is $250 and 30 days in jail. Bar owners can lose their licenses if the people they serve injure themselves or another person on their way home, Mr. Mack said.

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