If you’ve been around the Charlotte bar scene the last couple of months, and especially in the last few weeks, you may have noticed something different.
Chances are, you’ve probably had to fill out a membership application even if you’ve been frequenting an establishment for years. And if you haven’t — well, technically, you should be.
Places like Thomas Street Tavern, Petra’s, Coyote Joe’s, Label, VBGB, and Jeff’s Bucket Shop (to name a few) all require memberships.
I remember the first time I had to pay $1 to become a member at Coyote Joe’s. This was years ago and I had been going there every week with my friends for ladies night. Then, one Wednesday night in January, I was walking in and they asked if I was a member.
Um, no, I just come here for line dance lessons and half-priced drinks. Then they told me I had to pay my yearly “membership fee,” which was straight up annoying.
I loathe cover charges of any kind, no matter how small or infrequent.
And now, it’s happening all around the city but most people don’t know why. It all comes down to North Carolina A.L.E. law, but it hasn’t been strictly enforced in the last 10 years here.
The law basically lays out what types of places are allowed to sell alcohol. Restaurants can, but they need to make most of their money off of food. There is no real provision for a “bar.” Instead, there’s a thing called a “private club.”
According to state alcohol laws and regulations, all private clubs must have memberships. Some places even sell food but can’t qualify as a “restaurant” unless they sell 30% more in total gross sales of food and non-alcoholic beverages.
Places like VBGB might pump out tons of food but don’t stand a chance against their sales of alcohol consumption. The people of Charlotte may love pretzels and beer cheese but we realllly love our alcohol.
So now that this is happening, here’s what I’ve learned and some tips:
- Instead of racking up tons of membership cards and carrying them around in your wallet or losing them somewhere in your car, you can keep a photo of your membership card on your phone. Pro tip: Save the photo in your favorites.
- You don’t have to be 21. You can be 18 and up and still be a member if the establishment allows people under the drinking age.
- Members can bring up to five guests with them. All guests have to sign in on the guest log.
- If you’re inside a “private club” and an ABC officer asks to see your membership card, you need to be able to show it or qualify as someone’s guest. (This is rare, but could happen.)
- Breweries are different and don’t classify as “private clubs.”
- There are a crazy amount of alcohol laws made a long time ago that really don’t apply anymore because, well, it’s 2016 and time has turned the tide.