In recent months, I’ve been asked variations of this question a number of times.
As a general rule, in California, it is unlawful to serve alcohol at a public place without a proper license. There is, in fact, a special category of licenses for theatres.
The California Bureau of Alcoholic Beverage Control takes the position that If customers pay an admission charge to the event and are thus eligible to receive wine (whether or not there is a separate charge for the wine) an ABC license is required. Soliciting or accepting a donation in exchange for alcoholic beverages does not change the analysis—a license is still required.
California Business and Professions Code Section 23399.1 states that a license is not required if three elements are met:
- That there is no sale of an alcoholic beverage.
- That the premises are not open to the general public during the time alcoholic beverages are served, consumed or otherwise disposed of.
- That the premises are not maintained for the purpose of keeping, serving, consuming or otherwise disposing of alcoholic beverages.
So, as long as you have an audience in attendance, you’re considered “open to the general public”, and must have an ABC license if you intend to serve alcohol.
For individual producers, or theatres conducting an occasional fundraiser, ABC does issue a number of temporary types of licenses, See the ABC website at http://www.abc.ca.gov/permits/licensetypes.html for more information. Pay particular attention to type 69, “special on-sale theatre.”
Application forms and instructions are at http://www.abc.ca.gov/forms/PDFSpc.html .
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