Barns that rent to private events worry about potential for liquor license requirement

Wedding and event barns in Wisconsin worry a required liquor license could severely impact business, potentially even shut some locations down.

Earlier this week, Wisconsin’s Attorney General Brad Schimel in a legal analysis said private locations that can be rented out for events are still considered public and fall under state laws that oversee public places that serve alcohol.

Several farms in our area that host weddings and other events are not currently licensed to serve alcohol.

Many of these farms operate by having guests bring and serve their own booze with no licensed bartender, which the Wisconsin Tavern League says is extremely dangerous.

Mike Brown is the president of the La Crosse Tavern League and owner of Mike’s Logan Bar said, “It’s a public safety issue, is what it is. The reason these laws are in effect is to protect people.”

He said before the ruling, alcohol in barns could be completely unregulated.

“The customer would bring their own alcohol in, serve it themselves, there would be no licensed bartender, no rules on how long they could stay open or what they could do,” Brown said.

Brown said this combination meant things could easily get out of hand.

“It’s real dangerous. Especially if they don’t have somebody that’s a licensed bartender, that knows what to do in a situation, when to cut somebody off, when to get them home,” Brown said.

He says it wasn’t fair to the barns that were regulated.

“It put them (unregulated barns) at a huge advantage over banquet halls that are out there now that pay all the license fees and go by all the regulations,” Brown said.

Nancy Horstmann and her family recently converted their barn near West Salem into a wedding destination.

“This would be great, so when mom and dad no longer work, there’s a little extra income, and it stays in the family and we all are a part of this,” Horstmann said.

Hortsmann found it pretty difficult and expensive to get a liquor license.

“Beer and wine is not as strictly regulated, so that one’s easier to get,” Horstmann said.

Hortsmann settled on getting a beer and wine license, which she says is plenty.

“We can’t afford a year-round liquor license when we’re only open for late spring to early fall. It’d be stealing the liquor license away from somebody else who could be open all year,” Horstmann said.

Brown doesn’t care what kind of alcohol license a barn has, as long as they’re regulated.

“We just want them to be licensed like we are and go through the same regulation that we have to,” Brown said.

The Wisconsin Tavern League says a liquor license can cost around $500 a year, while a beer license normally costs around $100 a year.

Liquor licenses are also harder to get because each municipality has a limit on how many they give out.

Beer and wine licenses, on the other hand, have no quota.

There’s been a law on the books since 1992 saying public venues need a liquor license to sell booze. That same law is just now being applied to barns that host public events.

We reached out to several farms that didn’t have a liquor license to see how they feel about this issue, but unfortunately, we couldn’t get anyone to talk.

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