Recently, someone I genuinely adore went to great measures to ensure that I tasted an excellent adult beverage, one not indigenous to or distributed in the United States. This friend produced an ornate bottle, passed it to me and I prepared to deliver my dear old dad’s favorite toast — “Arriba! Abajo! Al Centro! Pa Dentro!” — when we were stopped short. We weren’t at a house party, at a picnic or on the street corner like a couple of winos. We were in a music venue, about five feet away from the bar, and were being regulated by the astute bartender. This person politely but sternly reminded us that bringing outside drinks into such an establishment isn’t just rude, it’s also putting the bar at legal risk.
We quickly assured him we’d both cut a collective brain fart and would be removing the hooch from inside the premises promptly, which we did. (By the way, the drink was fantastic, a grape brandy with hints of fermented honey — so yummy.) But this particular bartender has been around enough to know that certain music fans might try to smuggle their own drinks into shows. Sometimes it’s rebellion, sometimes it’s indigence and sometimes it’s just the fact that you can’t really fix a Brass Monkey without 40 ounces of OE. And, although I am sympathetic to these plights, it’s my obligation to remind fellow showgoers, in a polite yet stern way, that this is bad form.
Bars have to negotiate a regulatory risk when invitees bring their own drinks into their establishments. The byzantine Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code is hundreds of pages long. In the section regarding suspension or cancellation of permits to sell, there’s all sorts of subjective stuff like “the permittee [bar owner] is not of good moral character or his reputation for being a peaceable and law-abiding citizen in the community where he resides is bad.” My personal favorite is “the permittee maintains a noisy, lewd, disorderly, or unsanitary establishment or has supplied impure or otherwise deleterious beverages.” Honestly, I’d love to go to that bar. Who has directions to it?
Bars that are licensed to sell alcohol in Texas are subject to fines and license suspension if they permit their patrons to bring and drink outside beverages in their venue. It’s a three-strikes-you’re-out rule that means these places can have their license canceled for something that can be difficult to patrol.
Obviously, these rules are in place to protect the establishment and the public at large. Bars are always scrutinized for over-serving, and are legally bound to discontinue sales to people who have had too much to drink. Sometimes the best way to gauge that is by knowing how many strong drinks someone has ordered that night, which can be difficult to do if some of the drinking is done surreptitiously with drinks smuggled into the bar.
If you’re the sort who frequents Anvil or Hay Merchant, where you know you’re going to pay a premium for a good drink (and is why you’re there to begin with), all this may sound very foreign and confusing to you. Trust us, it happens. Don’t allow yourself to believe there’s any specific sort who engages in this practice. It’s not just crust-punks or lean-sippers pushing the envelope. John Q. Esquire is out there smuggling vodka or craft beers onto the golf course in his Callaway bag. If the course has a TABC license, those golfers are just as much in violation of the law as anyone else.
Someone better versed in these laws could probably give you a better explanation. And, you might be asking, what does all this have to do with music? If you’re at a venue to see a live-music act, there’s a good chance the acts are being paid from bar sales. Every smuggled beer is money from the bar’s ledger and the bands’ pockets. Even if they aren’t getting a cut of the bar but are paid off the door or a guarantee, they can’t collect on any of that if the bar is temporarily or permanently closed because of TABC infractions, or if they're not invited back to play for fear their followers will ignore the regulations.
The establishment has gone out of its way to book bands you enjoy, and is accommodating your music needs. At the very least, try not to put it in jeopardy just to save a buck or two.
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