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News & Press: Laws & Regulations

Steve Barnes: Raising glass to change in blue laws

Monday, April 25, 2016   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Joseph Hurley
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Published 2:54 pm, Wednesday, April 13, 2016

It's an open secret among brunchers that before-noon Sunday booze isn't hard to find, but it's still illegal. Getting with the 21st century only 16 years late, a new bill in the state Senate and Assembly would allow restaurants to serve alcohol starting at 10 a.m. on Sundays, not noon, as has been the rule since the repeal of Prohibition. (Sales already may start at 8 a.m. on other days.)

Unsurprisingly, some local restaurateurs who would be affected are thrilled.

"I think that's fantastic," says Brian Viglucci, a partner in BM&T Hospitality, which has eight Albany restaurants and bars. Among its holdings is Café Madison, which serves a jampacked weekend brunch. Every Sunday, multiple people request a bloody Mary or mimosa before noon, Viglucci says. (You could have a shot of Jagermeister instead, I suppose, if that's where your palate is inclined at 10 a.m. on a Sunday.)

"It was an antiquated law that should have been changed long ago," says Chris Pratt, co-owner of four Albany restaurants and bars. While brunch at Pratt's Capital American Eatery begins at 11 a.m. Sunday and is already busy during the first hour, Pratt says he expects it would become even more popular if the law changed.

More than 40 Sundays a year, bartenders at Wolff's Biergarten locations in Albany, Schenectady and Syracuse must tell fans of European soccer, which, because of the time difference, has matches that start around 8:30 and 11 a.m., that they cannot have a beer until noon.

"It would make a huge difference for us," says Mark Graydon, who is a partner in Wolff's and oversees soccer programming in the growing chain. (A fourth location, in Troy, is due to open as soon as next week.) Because the original beer-and-wine license issued by the State Liquor Authority when Wolff's opened in Albany, in 2009, listed Saturday and Sunday sales hours as starting at 9 a.m., for its first five years the beer garden regularly served before noon on Sundays. After it expanded to a full liquor license, two years ago, Wolff's was told by the SLA it could not serve until noon on Sundays, according to Graydon.

"It seems asinine for us to be telling people that they could drink at 3 a.m. Monday into Tuesday but not 11 o'clock on a Sunday morning when they're at brunch with their families," says Graydon.

New York is one of just a handful of states prohibiting alcohol sales before noon on Sundays, and only Utah and West Virginia have more restrictive Sunday laws. Many states have simple laws — sales from 6 or 7 a.m. to 2 or 3 a.m. every day, for instance. But New York's are different on Sundays for restaurants and bars, for liquor stores and for beer sales.

When asked to take a poll on the proposed legislation on my Table Hopping blog, about 1,100 people weighed in. The two most popular responses were almost exactly tied, separated by approximately half of a percentage point: About 42 percent of respondents supported alcohol sales being allowed around the clock, with a nearly equal number agreeing with this answer: "(It's a) dumb, incremental change, with extra fees to boot. Just make it 8 a.m. all the time, like every other day." Only 7 percent, seemingly reflecting the religious-based original ban on pre-noon alcohol sales, voted for keeping the law as it is.

Note a money-grabbing catch in the legislation: Rather than simply expanding the permissible hours for alcohol sales, the new measure would require restaurants wishing to serve before noon on Sundays to pay for an extra annual permit (fee unspecified) on top of their regular liquor license. Another provision of the bill would allow businesses to apply for (and pay for) an additional permit to serve alcohol starting at 8 a.m. on Sundays up to 12 times a year.

The bill makes no mention of hours for liquor stores, which also open at noon on Sundays. (Beer sales in supermarkets and other stores are allowed 24 hours a day except for 3 to 8 a.m. Sunday.)

Consulting the oracle that is Google, the bill's authors note that Sunday is the most popular day for brunch, and that New Yorkers have the highest interest in brunch of any state's residents. They conclude that expanded Sunday sales hours would "allow the state's citizens to take part in many of the weekend traditions, whether spurred forth by food, sports or holidays that allow families and friends to find respite from their work and enjoy each other's company."

The bill also cites among its rationales meals related to Sunday holidays, graduations and other celebrations that currently cannot include alcohol service before noon; acknowledges how time differences affect the global sporting audience; and opines that allowing booze sales before noon would cut down on the problem of tailgaters drinking in sports stadium parking lots before the venue opens.

Finally, "If this economic development proposal were enacted, there would be an increase in sales tax revenue to state and local governments."

"We support the bill and are trying to rally our members for a push to have it passed by the end of the legislative session" in June, says Jay Holland, government-affairs director for the New York State Restaurant Association.

He says, "There's no good reason not to allow it." • 518-454-5489 • @Tablehopping • <="" i="">>>

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