Bye-Bye, Beer Barns?
Against common business sense, some bars here aren’t designed to make huge profits or even draw attention to themselves. Beer barns, as they’re called, are tiny watering holes that serve only beer and are populated largely by their owners and their good friends. A lot of beer barns are side-businesses, ways for their owners to have friends over, drink beer, and – for the owners – drum up a little extra Whataburger change.
But the beer barn may be going the way of the dinosaur, thanks to a new state law.
Effective last month, Senate Bill 1850 raised the price of a bar owner’s license to sell beer and wine to a dollar amount that may be petty cash to a normal club boss but is all the way through the roof for the average beer barn owner.
Average annual sales for beer barns, according to Brian Harris of Harris Permit Service, a local company that handles licensing paperwork for several clubs, is about $35,000 to $50,000. “Their profit margin is very small to begin with,” he said. “A lot of the times the bar owners have to have a full-time job for their own [compensation].”
The new license fee is $1,235, plus city and county taxes, which raises the grand total to $2,235 – 10 times its price last year.
The bill was introduced by Houston’s Sen. Mario Gallegos, who said he “originally didn’t want to impose on any other districts” in the state but just wanted “to weed out the bad players” in his. Some beer barns in H-town, he said, dabble in shady business, such as drug dealing and prostitution. Local U.S. Rep. Charlie Geren asked that Tarrant County be included in the bill, but he said he wasn’t on a witch hunt for any particular troublemakers.
While it’s still too soon to tell how many places will be affected, both low- and high-profile beer barns should be leery, from the River Bottom Club and the 2500 Club to Pop’s Safari Room and Wine Bar and the Ridglea and Vine Wine Room. Even seasonal businesses such as Hip Pocket Theatre and golf driving ranges with a couple of taps out back will have to prepare to write a hefty check once time comes to renew licenses.
“Everyone who can survive will up their prices to carry [the increase],” said Nick Gregory, owner of Ye Olde Bull & Bush, a legendary Cultural District beer barn that recently went big-time and obtained its mixed beverage permit. “The folks who establish these [taxes] are not necessarily the people who work at the sharp end of the booze trade.”
Except perhaps for Geren, owner of the Railhead Smokehouse – but he’s not too worried about the increase. As for bars with a small profit margin, Geren said that they “probably shouldn’t be in business anyway.”
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