How to Get a Liquor License in Illinois

An Illinois liquor license costs you anywhere from $25 to $5,000 as of early 2020. The exact cost of a state liquor license depends on your field — convenience stores pay less than distilleries, for example — as do the rules you have to meet. Both the state Liquor Control Commission (ILCC) and the local government have a say in granting your Illinois liquor license.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

The first step in getting an Illinois state license is applying to the local government. The state licensing commission requires a local license before it grants you a state license. Local requirements typically include license fees, meeting the zoning code, and allowing your neighbors to file objections if they don't want your business to open.

Illinois State Liquor License Options

The booze business is a diverse one, so the Illinois liquor license isn't one-size-fits-all. The Illinois Liquor Control Commission gives you multiple options for licensing:

  • Retail: This state liquor license covers bars, restaurants, convenience stores, liquor stores and groceries and costs $750. Brewpubs, caterers and winemaker/retailers have specialty licenses with different fees.

  • Manufacturing: This includes brewers, winemakers and distillers with license fees ranging from $350 to $5,000.

  • Serving alcohol: All employees involved in on-premise selling or checking IDs for eligibility have to pass the Beverage Alcohol Sellers and Servers Education and Training (BASSET) license course. The license fee is $350.

  • Specialty liquor license: If you're serving alcohol on a boat, train or plane, or at an auction, this is the license you need.

  • Non-beverage users: This includes hospitals, school and laboratories using the liquor for research or medicinal purposes. There's no license fee if you qualify.

Special licenses are required for liquor tasting and for bars and restaurants that want to hold off-premises events.

Applying for Licensing

The ILCC has all the necessary state forms on its website. Fill them out, providing the required information, documentation and the license fee, and then wait for a response. As an example, the requirements for the retail license include:

  • A copy of your local liquor license, which is required before you apply to ILCC

  • A copy of your insurance policy if your business allows alcohol consumption on the premises

  • The deed or lease to the property where you're going to sell your wares

  • Your federal and state tax ID

  • The legal structure of your business, such as a partnership, corporation or sole proprietorship. If you're a sole proprietor, you must live within the city or county issuing you a local license.

  • A list of all the owners of the business

  • The hours you plan to be open, which must conform to local law

  • Answers to eligibility questions such as whether you've been convicted of a felony or had a previous Illinois liquor license revoked

  • Contact information and your signature 

Your Local License

It doesn't matter whether you're seeking a Cook County liquor license for a distillery or want to open a wine bar in Peoria, you need the local government's thumbs-up before you can open a liquor business. Here's how the process works in Chicago, for example:

  • Meet with a city staffer and answer questions about the type of business, the location and the ownership. The staffer provides you with a license application and a list of documents you have to submit within 30 days of filing the application form. 

  • The staffer also helps to figure out if licensed alcohol businesses are allowed in the location you want. Some city precincts are dry or have a moratorium on new licenses. You need to know this before you buy a property or sign a lease.

  • Submit a detailed floor and site plan with your application. The Department of Zoning decides if the location qualifies for alcohol-based businesses.

  • The city's health, fire and building departments inspect the premises.

  • The city runs background checks on you and anyone who owns more than 5% of the business. The background check includes fingerprinting.

  • Within five days of you filing the application, the city notifies voters living within 250 feet of your proposed site. They have 35 days to make any objections to granting your license.

  • Submit your added documents. If you miss the deadline, the city suspends your application. Any fees you've paid are not refunded. Restarting the process requires another fee.

  • The city reviews your application materials and any community objections. You are notified within 60 days of the decision, and you can file an appeal if you're rejected.