Party Barns, Beer Barons, and the State of Wisconsin

Ok…this seems like a pretty trivial issue but it has been getting a ton of press in Wisconsin. And maybe it’s a subterfuge to the heinous acts under consideration by the GOP for their December 2018 lame duck session in Madison…but let’s take a peek!

For those of you who aren’t aware of the trend or have missed the recent hub bub, dairy farms who have gone out of business or downsized have repurposed barns as rental facilities for parties…like wedding receptions, family reunions and such. Well the Wisconsin Tavern League has their nose our to joint over these barns having alcohol available at these events and are demanding that they be licensed. The lame duck attorney general Brad Schimel has released a non-binding opinion siding with the tavern owners.

Earlier this week, outgoing Attorney General Brad Schimel suggested in a legal analysis that barns rented for events are subject to the state’s liquor laws. His analysis came at the request of Rep. Rob Swearingen, a Republican from Rhinelander.

On Wednesday, a state legislative committee tasked with examining the state’s alcohol laws echoed Schimel, saying it interprets current laws to require venues like barns to obtain licenses to serve alcohol.

It’s also worth noting that Swearingen chairs the legislative committee. He is a former president of the Tavern League and the owner of a supper club — exactly the kind of business that would see wedding barns as competition, and unlicensed wedding barns serving alcohol as unfair competition.

So you see the conflicts at work here. A legislator perceives a personal loss of revenue and direct competition that he views as unfair…and he has sway with the tavern league and vice versa. But it seems to me that those aggrieved taverns would be a minority of the tavern league membership…only including those who have halls to rent.

And the GOP and the AG have said this just a matter of common sense. I am sure that’s true but common sense to me from the other side of the divide.

So I am going to weigh in on this…from my point of view. And I am going to start with my life experience. My parents owned a tavern in Pewaukee from sometime around 1960 to late in the 1980s when my mother retired. At that time they owned the tavern business and the tavern real estate. Needless to say they held a tavern license. And their bartenders who weren’t family members had bartender licenses. And they could only purchase beer and alcohol from wholesalers licensed to sell to taverns…and they sold alcohol by the drink over the bar or six packs for carry out.

Now when my mother retired she sold the tavern business and retained the tavern real estate. The business owner was required to have the tavern license…my mother as lessor was not.

So to these party barns. It seems to me if the barn owner is renting the barn…and not supplying alcohol or bartenders or other services…the caterers would be the parties responsible for holding a liquor license and employing licensed bartenders. The barn lessor should be free and clear here of license laws and restrictions. Occupancy permit yes…liquor license no.

If the party barn owner is in fact supplying alcohol and the services of bartending staff, then common sense does in fact require the barn owner to have a liquor license.

So I don’t get the controversy…am I missing something…or is the news coverage on this thing wanting?

Or is Rep. Rob Swearingen and AG Brad Schimel kowtowing to their campaign contributors at the expense of the rest of the state?


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