New beer law falls flat

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LIVING IN Pennsylvania all my life, I’ve unfortunately grown accustomed to stupid beer laws.

In this state, you can’t buy beer at the single largest retailer of alcohol in America, the Pennsylvania State Store system.

You can’t buy a sixpack at your local beer distributor, which sells cases only.

And if you want beer by the sixpack at a bar, you can buy only two at a time.

Now it’s getting even tougher to find that sixpack.

That’s the perhaps not-unintended consequence of a boneheaded state law designed to cut down on public drunkenness.

The law, which applies only to Philadelphia, gives City Council veto power over takeout-beer licenses at 2,000 bars and delis. The licensure can be held up by any City Council member, giving neighbors a powerful tool to shut down troublesome bars.

Bar owners complain that this second layer of licensure is unfair, because in addition to state regs, they now must meet Council’s new rules. The owners fear that if even a single neighbor gripes about anything, from trash to drunken behavior, they’ll lose their licenses.

Some owners aren’t even bothering to apply for the takeout license because of the hassle and the $600 fee.

Chris Mullins, at McGillin’s Old Ale House in Center City, told me he barely makes that much in annual sixpack sales. “It’s really not worth it to me any more,” Mullins said.

Other bars, like the Dawson Street Pub in Manayunk, have posted handwritten notes advising customers that sixpacks are no-go.

A spokeswoman for the United Tavern Owners of Philadelphia told me that fewer than one-quarter of the city’s licensed bars and restaurants have applied for the takeout license.

The sad irony is that the anti-takeout law may do little to eliminate neighborhood nuisances.

It was mostly the larger stop-and-go delis – fewer than 200 outlets across the city – that neighbors were complaining about. Yet, these are the very businesses that have the most at stake and that are more likely to pay the $600 and fight for their licenses. Meanwhile, the little guys who were causing few problems will just give up.

And another thing: What about other booze? State stores are exempt from Council’s oversight, so beer gets busted while rotgut wine gets a pass.

Pennsylvania, though, is hardly alone when it comes to conflicting, meaningless gimmicks to restrict the sale of alcohol.

The problem is a basic clash of moral values.

One side regards beer as one of the pleasures of life. The other – mainly religious zealots and anti-alcohol morons – blames booze instead of the lawbreaking idiots who cause all the problems. (And, yes, I’m aware that the Daily News editorial board supported the anti-takeout law. )

Unfortunately, elected officials have a sad propensity to pander instead of lead. Instead of intelligently examining the issue of, say, allowing 18-year-olds the right to drink, lawmakers unfailingly bow to every teary PTA mom who frets that her dear Jimmy’s going to sneak a sip someday.

As a result, the nation’s law books are filled with stupid beer laws.

In Utah and Oklahoma, beer can’t exceed 3.2 percent alcohol by weight at many establishments. That means you have to go to a state liquor store or private club to enjoy the likes of English strong ale, barleywine, double bock or imperial stout.

In Nebraska, it’s a felony to serve a shot of liquor in a beer. That means no boilermakers.

In New Hampshire, minors who’ve had a sip of beer can be arrested for “internal possession” of alcohol.

In some areas of the District of Columbia, it’s against the law to sell single cans of beer.

In about half of the states, anyone who buys a keg must register the purchase so it can be traced by the government.

And it’s getting worse.

In Alabama, the state Senate unanimously adopted a bill that would outlaw keg sales to anyone without a bar or restaurant license. That means no more kegs at softball games, backyard picnics, tailgate parties or in your basement beermeister.

In Missouri, they’re trying to pass a law to outlaw the sale of cold beer. The thinking, if you can call it that, is that cold beer is intended for immediate consumption, which leads to drunken driving. Never mind that you can get just as buzzed on room-temperature whiskey. If I didn’t know better, I’d guess the law was the product of backroom lobbying by the ice-cube industry. Instead, it turns out the idea came from a fifth-grader as part of a classroom project.

Which is pretty much the level of intellectual deliberation that we’re getting from the boobs writing stupid beer laws.


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