A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

liquor licenses at home and abroad

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 7, 2008

Years ago, during my first summer in Damascus, I was fascinated to learn that Syria’s laws prohibit serving alcohol within so many meters of a mosque – or at least, this is how the law was explained to me. It made sense – after all, most believers agree that Islam does not welcome alcohol – although a Christian friend later mentioned that similar rules apply to churches. And really, what worshiper would like to come out of a service to find disco music and drunken revelry just next door?

I assumed that these laws reflected the religious sensitivities of people in the Levant, and filed away the information in the “interesting facts” folder of my brain. But yesterday I was reminded that I live in a country that is also filled with religious sensitivities. After reading a letter to the editor questioning how a midtown church could receive a liquor license for its new restaurant, I did a bit of research and learned that most US state and city laws restrict liquor licenses – and especially bars – to a set distance from houses of worship and schools.

Here is the relevant section of New York State law:

    7. No retail license for on-premises consumption shall be granted  for
  any premises which shall be

    (a)  on  the  same  street  or avenue and within two hundred feet of a
  building occupied exclusively as a school, church,  synagogue  or  other
  place of worship or

    (b)  in a city, town or village having a population of twenty thousand
  or more within five hundred feet of  three  or  more  existing  premises
  licensed and operating pursuant to the provisions of this section;

    (c) the measurements in paragraphs (a) and (b) of this subdivision are
  to be taken in straight lines from the center of the nearest entrance of
  the premises sought to be licensed to the center of the nearest entrance
  of  such  school,  church, synagogue or other place of worship or to the
  center of the nearest  entrance  of  each  such  premises  licensed  and
  operating  pursuant  to the provisions of this section; except, however,
  that no renewal license shall be denied because of such  restriction  to
  any  premises  so  located  which  were maintained as a bona fide hotel,
  restaurant, catering establishment or  club  on  or  prior  to  December
  fifth,  nineteen hundred thirty-three; and, except that no license shall
  be denied to any premises at which a license under this chapter has been
  in existence continuously from a date prior to the date when a  building
  on  the  same  street  or  avenue  and  within  two hundred feet of said
  premises has been occupied exclusively as a school, church, synagogue or
  other place of worship; and except that no license shall  be  denied  to
  any  premises,  which  is  within  five  hundred  feet  of three or more
  existing premises licensed and operating pursuant to the  provisions  of
  this  section,  at  which  a  license  under  this  chapter  has been in
  existence continuously on or prior to November first,  nineteen  hundred
  ninety-three;  and  except  that this subdivision shall not be deemed to
  restrict the issuance of a hotel liquor license to a building used as  a
  hotel  and  in  which  a  restaurant liquor license currently exists for
  premises which serve as a dining room for guests  of  the  hotel  and  a
  caterer's license to a person using the permanent catering facilities of
  a  church,  synagogue  or  other  place of worship pursuant to a written
  agreement between such person and the  authorities  in  charge  of  such
  facilities.  The  liquor authority, in its discretion, may authorize the
  removal of any such licensed premises to a  different  location  on  the
  same  street  or avenue, within two hundred feet of said school, church,
  synagogue or other place of worship, provided that such new location  is
  not  within a closer distance to such school, church, synagogue or other
  place of worship.

    (d) Within the context of this subdivision, the word "entrance"  shall
  mean a door of a school, of a house of worship, or premises licensed and
  operating  pursuant to the provisions of this section or of the premises
  sought to be licensed, regularly used to give ingress to students of the
  school,  to  the  general  public attending the place of worship, and to
  patrons or guests of the premises licensed and operating pursuant to the
  provisions of this section or of the premises  sought  to  be  licensed,
  except  that where a school or house of worship or premises licensed and
  operating pursuant to the provisions of this section is set back from  a
  public  thoroughfare,  the  walkway  or  stairs leading to any such door
  shall be deemed an entrance; and the measurement shall be taken  to  the
  center of the walkway or stairs at the point where it meets the building
  line  or  public thoroughfare. A door which has no exterior hardware, or
  which is used solely as an emergency or fire exit,  or  for  maintenance
  purposes,  or which leads directly to a part of a building not regularly
  used by the general public or patrons, is not deemed an "entrance".

Very interesting. Establishments that serve alcohol are thus restricted not only in terms of their distance from schools and houses of worship, but also in terms of how many there can be in a particular area relative to the size of the overall population. I am not sure whether New York’s population is simply so large that the population requirement is satisfied, or whether it has been granted a general exemption, but there definitely are a lot of bars and restaurants clustered together here, in both the city and the boroughs.

In any case, I am glad to have had the chance to think again about the many ways in which we on both sides of the world are alike – and for the reminder of how far I sometimes travel in order to learn more about my home country🙂 .

6 Responses to “liquor licenses at home and abroad”

  1. Diamond, how did you make it snow on your blog? It snowed today in Montreal and it is -14C now!!!!

  2. Hi Kheireddine🙂

    I can’t claim credit for the snow – its a WordPress feature (isn’t it fun?). But my goodness, -14 C. I hope you have warm clothes and a good stock of hot tea and coffee!

  3. snarla said

    That’s funny. That reminds me of my mom’s house on a corner, with a church on one of the other corners and a liquor store on a third.

  4. Snarla, too funny. I bet there was a zoning exception made – like the store doesn’t open during Sunday services – or maybe the church came after the liquor store.

  5. intlxpatr said

    Liquor stores – and those adult thingy stores, too. Seattle is always having lawsuits over adult places that want to open too close to a school or place of worship.

  6. Oh, those adult thing-ys. What I notice here is that many video stores also advertise their “adult” collections – which to me makes them a less appealing part of the neighborhood fabric.

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