Harford liquor board discusses cafe wine and beer display limits

Concerned that the establishment not be turned into what members said could be a restaurant in the middle of a liquor store, the Harford County Liquor Control Board requested Wednesday that the owner of Pairings Bistro in Bel Air give them a final floor layout of his recent expansion.

Jon Kohler, the licensee for Pairings, in the 2100 block of Laurel Bush Road, attended the board's meeting in Bel Air to discuss his recent expansion. Previously, when the board gave its OK to the expansion, Kohler had been asked to come in with his plans before going forward, Board Administrator Kathryn Thess said following the meeting.

Pairings holds one of the three cafe class restaurant licenses issued in the county which allows the sale of beer and wine on and off the premises; however, the law stipulates that "not more than 10 percent of the total square footage of the establishment is dedicated to the public display of beer and wine that is offered for sale." In addition, gross monthly food sales have to exceed 50 percent of the monthly receipts from the sale of beer and wine on the premises, according to the law.

Kohler brought some photographs of the expansion to 80 seats, which elicited a general debate among the board members about what constitutes "10 percent of the total square footage," in terms of shelves, floor cabinets or other display vehicles, such as wine cases on the floor, one of the other examples given during the discussion.

Part of the hang-up for the board was whether the 10 percent was to be measured from within the public eating area or the whole building. Board member Thomas Fidler Jr. suggested the whole building's square footage of the establishment's footprint be used as the basis, to permit the owner to be "a little more creative" in the display of the wine and beer for sale in relation to the eating area.

Board member Michael Thompson Jr. said he was amenable to Fidler's proposal, but he didn't want to see a situation of either "a liquor store inside a restaurant" or a "restaurant attached to a liquor store," which Thompson said could happen if too much of the dining area was turned into retail display and sales.

Saying that the cafe class license was enacted "for the small guy," Board Chairman Donald Hess said he wasn't in favor of confining the display area to one room in the restaurant. But, Hess also told Kohler the 10 percent rule would apply to any wine and beer displayed for sale, regardless if on or off the premises.

Fidler said the idea of the cafe is not to have "a full blown liquor store." He gave an example that with standard shelving three feet wide, Parings could have 100 linear feet of shelving, 300 square feet or 10 percent of a 3,000 building footprint. Kohler said that would be fine with him.

As another example, Hess said Kohler could place a carton of wine on the floor and pile on other cartons on top to the ceiling, and only the dimensions of the bottom carton would count in the square footage. But, he added, if the cartons were arrayed one-by-one on the floor, they would all count.

Rather than set the calculation as policy, the board suggested Kohler go back, add up the square footage of his displays, and bring the final floor plan back to the board. He agreed.

Though Thess expressed some concern that the board's two inspectors might have to go out armed with tape measures in the future, Hess wasn't too worried, nor were the other board members. The county law allows only five cafe licenses and only three have been issued.

In other business at its meeting Wednesday, the liquor board approved a one-day beer and wine license for the Harford Community College Foundation's Wine Expo on Feb. 24 at the new APGFCU Arena. Also approved was a one-day beer and wine license for Havre de Grace Chiefs Softball for a fund-raiser at the Havre de Grace Community Center on Feb. 16.

The board also approved changes of officers on the licenses of the Bush River Yacht Club Inc. and Joppa Magnolia Volunteer Fire Company Inc.

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