Panel seeks flexibility in issuing wine-only liquor licenses
With full liquor licenses all in use, businesses explore alternatives

By Cara Spoto

July 11, 2018

WAUKESHA — A city panel is seeking changes to local liquor regulations that could make it easier for non-restaurants to get a license for serving wine as long as they serve some kind of food with the alcoholic beverage.

The request, which was made Monday by the Ordinance and Licensing Committee, comes after a group of entrepreneurs approached the city looking to serve beer and wine at a craft studio they are hoping to open in the downtown area.

By state law the city can issue different types of licenses allowing certain businesses to serve alcohol on their premises. But the state puts a quota or limit on the number of full “Class B” intoxicating liquor and/or “tavern” licenses, which allow license holders to serve both hard liquor and wine as well as beer. With the city having issued all 77 of its allotted tavern licenses, the only way a restaurateur or other business owner can currently secure a full “Class B” or tavern license from the city would be to apply for a $10,000 reserve license. With state law now barring cities from reimbursing applicants for reserve license fees, Deputy City Clerk-Treasurer Sandee Policello said local businesses have been applying for licenses that only allow them to serve beer and/or wine. There are currently 11 businesses with Class “B” and “C” combo licenses that allow them to serve both wine and beer, and nine businesses with Class “B” licenses that allow them to serve only beer.

Hoping to serve both wine and beer at their soon-to-open craft studio Artsy Bliss, Jacky Leverance and her partners Rabi Malik and Gwen Doyle approached the city earlier this year seeking to apply for a beer and wine combination license.

They ran into a bit of a roadblock, however, when city officials noted that wine licenses can only be issued to restaurants.

Vague language

Although the state statute governing wine licenses defines restaurants merely as establishments “where meals are prepared, served or sold,” City Attorney Brian Running suggested that the Ordinance and Licensing Committee consider how they wished to define the term “meal” when it comes to issuing “Class C” licenses to business that aren’t traditional restaurants.

“I think it is important that we have a stated set of standards for the issuance of “Class C” licenses, just so that each time a decision is made (on whether to issue a license) it’s not an ad hoc decision based on a varying standard or criteria,” he told committee members.

Running noted that, up until last year, the state statute had defined a restaurant as a place where the predominant activity was the preparation and sale of food, but now the state statute had opened up the ability to get the license to practically any business.

With that in mind, he said, the question before the committee was whether to pursue a policy that was more flexible or more restrictive.

“In any alcohol regulations you don’t want situations where there is going to be overconsumption. And I think with something like a painting studio, or a hair salon, those are situations where people are probably are not going specifically to drink or get intoxicated,” Running said.

He added that the committee could always specify that certain businesses, such as day cares, were not eligible for “Class C” licenses whether they served food or not.

Flexibility favored

During a roughly 25minute discussion, the three committee members present for the meeting — Chairman Steve Johnson, Alderwoman Cassie Rodriguez and Common Council President Daniel Manion — said they favored a lenient policy. Rodriguez noted, however, that she would like to set a policy that would require would-be license holders to serve more than just a bowl of popcorn or pretzels with the wine.

Manion said getting a wine license should be no more difficult than getting a beer license.

“In my mind there is a little bit of an arbitrary distinction between wine and beer,” Manion said. “I can go into any number of bars downtown and get a bourbon-barrel-aged stout. That is a strong beer but it’s maybe a few percentage points from a glass of Chardonnay in terms of alcohol content. If (an applicant) meets the requirements to serve beer, I don’t really see a big difference in allowing them to serve wine as well.”

The committee voted 3-0 to ask Running’s office to draft various options for a would-be ordinance change and present them to the Common Council at 6:30 p.m. on June 17 at City Hall, 201 Delafield St.

During the public comment period, Leverance urged the committee to pursue more flexibility for “Class C” wine license applicants, saying it would help boost economic development in the city and free up more tavern licenses for bonafide bars and restaurants.

After the committee, Leverance said she was looking forward to getting all the necessary licensing and permitting for the craft studio.

She and her partners hope to be operating, and perhaps serving a few glasses of wine and beer, by Sept. 1.