Whether you're in Baltimore or Annapolis, you need a liquor license in Maryland if you want to sell alcohol. A liquor license in Maryland is awarded at the local level, though local rules have to conform to Maryland state liquor laws.

Types of Liquor Licenses in MD

All kinds of businesses, events and organizations serve alcohol to bring in customers or to boost revenue. Before you apply for a license, be clear on what sort of alcohol license in Maryland you need. Under Maryland liquor laws, there are several different classes:

  • Taverns and bars
  • Clubs that allow sales to members only
  • Restaurants

    To qualify for this permit, you need to serve hot meals at least twice daily * Deluxe restaurant

    – Part of the definition is that the capital investment is at least $800,000, not counting the cost of the land and buildings Hotels and motels Race tracks Airport terminal lounges Entertainment complexes

Special events selling alcohol require a separate license, and so do pub tours. If you want to sell beer in growlers, a kind of refillable container, that will require its own license even if you already sell beer by the glass.

Application and Need

According to Maryland liquor laws, if you're applying for a liquor license in Maryland, the local board must consider "public need and desire." This is another way of saying, for example, "Does anyone need or want a tavern at this location?" This is a subjective standard, but it's possible to find expert witnesses who can address the board about how your license would meet the public's needs.

Local boards are given some leeway in interpreting the law. In Baltimore, for example, if you're purchasing an existing liquor license from an operating business, you don't have to demonstrate need. If you want a new license or want to relocate or expand your business, then need becomes an issue.

The Application Process

In Annapolis, for example, the liquor-license application requires several elements:

  • A zoning board statement that your business conforms to city zoning
  • A $225 filing fee
  • Fingerprints and a background check
  • A cover sheet explaining the public need and the impact your business will have on other license holders
  • Copies of key business paperwork, such as articles of incorporation or a partnership agreement
  • Which kind of license you want
  • Whether you plan to serve beer, wine, hard liquor or all of them
  • Names of licensees
  • Declarations that none of the licensees already have liquor licenses, that none of them have a criminal record and that no distilleries, brewers or liquor wholesalers have a stake in the venture
  • A liquor board hearing on your application. People who oppose it will be able to make their case to the board.

The exact details and paperwork vary between jurisdictions. In Baltimore, for example, the fee is currently $600.

Licenses aren't forever. They expire unless you apply to renew them, and Maryland liquor laws can prevent that. For instance, if you don't pay sales tax, employee withholding and other state tax requirements, the liquor board can freeze your renewal until you settle up.

You and your staff also have to observe Maryland alcohol-serving laws, such as:

  • Bartenders in most counties must be 18 and must complete an alcohol-awareness training program.
  • Serving alcohol to anyone under 21 can trigger a fine of $500 for the first offense and $1,000 for the second. Parents are not allowed to buy alcohol for their kids.
  • Some parts of Maryland prohibit serving alcohol on Sundays.

You also have to observe all the other requirements in state and local laws. Restaurants have to meet county health codes, and smoking in restaurants and bars is illegal.