Brown-bagging banned in Chapel Hill

Thursday, December 13, 2007

CHAPEL HILL -- Brown bagging is legal anywhere in Tennessee except where it's prohibited by local ordinance, and here the Board of Mayor and Aldermen has voted for an ordinance to ban brown bagging.

Pouring drinks from your own bottle at a restaurant became a concern here after a barbecue restaurant operator asked for permission to sell beer to golfers who eat at her place because they can't get a beer at the state park restaurant.

Having opened that can of worms, aldermen met with the beer board and held a conference call with Town Attorney Todd Moore, who advised them of the law on brown bagging. Town leaders later said they're unaware of brown bagging in Chapel Hill, but they were careful as they moved toward permitting the sale of beer for on-premises consumption as requested.

Permitting beer sales with meals was then deferred on Monday when Mayor Carl Cooper said the beer board is "at somewhat of a stalemate in terms of putting more controls over it, so we'd like to defer it until Jan. 8 at 10 a.m. to meet with the beer board to know that we are doing what the residents want."

But during discussion at the meeting Monday, Alderman Henry Frame reported that some town officials were misinformed with regard to brown bagging. Some said they didn't believe it was happening, or had not been told of such.

"It's happening here in town," Frame said.

He declined to name any restaurants permitting customers to bring in an alcoholic beverage so that they may pour drinks for themselves.

Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission Agent Michael Cawthon on Wednesday substantiated advice the town got from its attorney.

"As long as you maintain control of your whiskey, then you can pour yourself a drink in any restaurant as long as the restaurant will allow it and it's not prohibited by local ordinance," Cawthon said.

Chapel Hill Administrator Mike Hatten said the town board's unanimous vote to ban brown bagging in Chapel Hill requires another successful vote before it becomes law.

That could be during the next regular session of the board at 6 p.m. Jan. 14.

"I suggest we send them a letter," Frame said of restaurants in Chapel Hill. "They need to have a letter so they know."

"No letter will be sent out until it [the ordinance] is passed on second and final reading," Hatten said.

Tina Wesson, the proprietor of Sandy's Barbecue, made clear her position on brown bagging.

"I will not serve liquor by the drink or allow brown bagging," Wesson told the board. "I just don't want that in this town... I just want to sell a beer with a sandwich. I didn't know brown bagging would become an issue."

Moore advised that the beer board could make a recommendation on the proposed ordinance to ban brown bagging, so the issue goes back to that panel and Alderwoman Pam Elliott moved to table the discussion until it comes back to the town board from the beer board.

The vote was unanimous.

Meanwhile, Cawthon further clarified the state law on brown bagging by saying a customer "can't ask the restaurant to keep a bottle under the bar... [and] no one in the restaurant can store it for you. They can sell you setups, but they can't dispense the liquor."

Set-ups are taxed like mixed drinks at 15 percent; that law is enforced by the state Revenue Department, not the ABC.