"Brown-bagging" is currently permitted in Wartrace and is not regulated by the town's ordinances, but the town can't have "liquor by the drink," according to that town's attorney.
The question arose Monday night after a question was posed to Wartrace's board by Joe McCurry, who said he is planning on opening a restaurant in the small town in the near future.
"Brown-bagging" is the practice of a customer bringing his own bottle of wine or liquor to a restaurant to consume with a meal.
McCurry said he wanted to know exactly what the law was for Wartrace so that he would not be in violation. Mayor Don Gallagher received an opinion from the city attorney, Ginger Shofner, on Monday afternoon.
Shofner wrote in her opinion that "brown-bagging" ... is not regulated by any municipal ordinance and, therefore, is currently permitted in the town of Wartrace."
But Shofner added that due to Wartrace's population, "it appears that the Town is not authorized by State Law to hold a referendum as to whether to allow the sale of alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises, otherwise more commonly known as 'liquor by the drink.'"
The practice of brown-bagging is not specifically regulated by the Tennessee General Assembly, Shofner said, and is viewed as generally permitted within the state.
The state's Attorney General stated an opinion that the practice could not be banned at all until 1986, when the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that a municipality could regulate brown-bagging through an anti-brown-bagging ordinance, which would have to be enacted by a town's board or council, Shofner wrote.
She added that Wartrace's municipal code "cannot serve as an anti-brown-bagging ordinance. It is not specific enough to regulate the practice."
Shofner added that the banning of package stores "is specifically allowed by referendum just as they may be permitted," but given the population of Wartrace, the attorney said that it was questionable if the town has authority to pass the measure.
If Wartrace ever wanted to pass an anti-brown-bagging ordinance, Shofner advised that a proposed draft be sent to the Tennessee Attorney General's office for an opinion.
Also, since Wartrace does not meet the population requirements of a municipality, the town is not able to allow its citizens to vote whether to permit the sale of alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises.
Wartrace Police Chief Billy Smith also told McCurry that while McCurry can allow customers to bring in alcohol, he cannot offer "set-ups," mix the drinks or store the liquor for the customer's later use.
Bell Buckle repealed its ordinance banning "brown-bagging" in February after the law was deemed unenforceable. Nearby Chapel Hill banned the practice in January but did not vote for or against permitting beer service with meals at restaurants.