How to Get a Liquor License in New York

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If you want to open a bar or an upscale Scotch store in the Big Apple, you don't need a bar or liquor store license from NYC. Liquor licensing is a New York state (NYS) matter. City or county government can weigh in with the state on whether your NYS liquor license application should be approved.

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

The New York State Liquor Authority handles liquor licenses for NYC. First, identify which specific license out of many options you want. Then apply online, paying the appropriate fees. The default assumption is that you should get your license unless there's a good reason to say no.

Categories of Liquor License

New York liquor licenses come in multiple varieties based on the exact nature of your business and what type of booze you want to sell. The NYS liquor license application process breaks them down into four broad categories:

  • On-premises licenses. This category applies to bars, taverns and restaurants that sell liquor to patrons by the glass for on-site consumption. State law requires the license holder to sell food as well as booze.
  • Off-premises licenses. This would cover stores that sell bottles and cans for off-site drinking. This is the category to pick if, say, you wanted a liquor store license in NYC.
  • Wholesalers can sell liquor to New York state licensed wholesalers and retailers.
  • Manufacturers make alcoholic beverages and sell their product wholesale. 

Specific Types of License

Each of the four categories breaks down into multiple specific licenses. A restaurant or bar, for example, can apply for an on-premises license to sell all types of alcohol; beer, wine and cider only; or just beer and cider. The drinks must be consumed on site and the licensee can't sell unopened beer.

Other on-premises license options include:

  • Hotel. A hotel can sell beer, wine or liquor for drinking on site, depending on which license or licenses it applies for. 
  • Ballpark Beer. Allows ballparks and other stadiums and athletic establishments to sell beer. The facility has to charge an admission fee.
  • Catering Establishment. A rentable banquet facility can sell beer and wine at private events.
  • Club (Members Only). Private clubs can serve beer, wine or liquor, depending on the choice of license, but only to members and guests.
  • Restaurant Brewer. A restaurant can brew beer as well as sell it. A supplemental license allows the licensee to sell beer to customers for consumption at home.
  • Cabaret Liquor. A business specializing in musical entertainment, with capacity for at least 600 people, can sell beer, wine, liquor and cider, including unopened beer to go.
  • Food Concessionaire. This allows the licensee to hire a food provider to work the premises. The concessionaire may not handle or serve alcohol.
  • Bed and Breakfast. The licensee can serve alcohol to overnight guests. 
  • Golf Club. A private golf club can serve all forms of alcohol to members and guests.
  • Chain Restaurant. This allows a licensee to add a new location.
  • Vessels. This allows boats used for transportation, fishing or sightseeing to sell beer or liquor, depending on the license choice. Similar licenses apply for airlines and railroad cars. 

The other four categories break down into similar lists. Whether you want a restaurant license or a liquor store license in NYC you'll need to go through the list and pinpoint the right option for your business.

NYS Liquor License Application

The application process is roughly the same whichever license you go for. Say, for example, you want a liquor store license in NYC. First, you decide which type of license to go for from a list that includes grocery store, drug store, wine store, liquor store and beer delivery stores.

The prerequisites for the state to consider your application include:

  • You're over 21.
  • You don't hold any interest in a wholesale, manufacturing or importing business.
  • You're a U.S. citizen, or otherwise eligible to hold a liquor license.
  • You provide fingerprints for a background check.
  • If your business is a corporation or a limited liability company, you must provide a receipt from the New York Secretary of State showing you've filed to set up the company.
  • If you're a sole proprietorship or partnership using a business name, you must provide a certificate of assumed name. You apply for this with the county clerk for whichever of New York's five boroughs you operate in. 

Liquor License NYC Cost

The application fees at the time of writing are usually $100 for beer or wine and $200 for liquor, with some specialty fees as well. The actual liquor license NYC cost varies more, depending on the type of license and the location: Staten Island, which is in Richmond County, is on a different fee schedule than the rest of the city.

For example:

  • Drug store and grocery store beer license: $330 for the first and second locations, $660 for any added stores. A wine and beer license costs $594, rising to $1,056 for each store after the second.
  • A hotel beer license: $960.
  • Ballpark beer: $576.
  • Tavern wine: $1,152.
  • Liquor store license NYC: $4,098 or $2,562 in Staten Island.
  • Bed and breakfast: $490 to $550 depending on the number of rooms.
  • Restaurant brewer: $5,850 or $4,350 in Staten. 

Filing Your Paperwork

When you submit your application for a restaurant, tavern or liquor store license in NYC, you'll have to submit the fees and a lot of extra paperwork along with it:

  • A $1,000 penal bond.
  • Photos of the proposed premises, and all the principals in the business.
  • Photo IDs for all the principals.
  • A lease, deed or sale contract for the location.
  • A diagram of the premises.
  • A pharmacy license certificate if you're opening a drug store.
  • Before the license is issued you'll also have to provide proof of workers' compensation coverage and a photo of the location ready to open. 

Getting The License

Although the list of requirements may look intimidating, state rules say you get your license unless there's a good reason not to grant it, for example:

  • A law that won't allow your business to open at your chosen location, for example, because you're too close to a church.
  • You have a history of liquor-law violations.
  • You don't meet all the licensee requirements.
  • The New York Liquor Authority has a problem with your financial responsibility, experience or fitness to receive a license.
  • The authority catches you concealing facts, making false material statements or committing fraud in the application process 

Navigating Local Issues

If you're applying for an on-premises license there's another potential roadblock: you must notify your local government 30 days before you submit your application. This gives the government a chance to protest if they don't like your application. Assuming you're not violating local zoning or other ordinances, however, community opposition is not grounds for denying your application.

If your site does have some legal issues, the local government may work out a compromise, allowing you to open if you accept some conditions on your license. The Liquor Authority can incorporate these conditions into your license application. In that case, the authority can penalize you if you don't comply with the conditions.

Anyone from your borough's elected officials to the general public can file an online complaint with the Liquor Authority if they think you're breaking the liquor laws. They can also check the status of your liquor license by looking you up online. The Liquor Authority's online tool allows searches by your name, the business name, the location or the license number.

References

About the Author

Fraser Sherman has written about every aspect of business: how to start one, how to keep one in the black, the best business structure, the details of financial statements. He's also run a couple of small businesses of his own. He lives in Durham NC with his awesome wife and two wonderful dogs. His website is frasersherman.com