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LA Makes It Much Easier for Restaurants to Get a Permit to Sell Alcohol

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The application process will take weeks instead of months, and will only cost $4,000

The Little Friend Venice
Bartender makes a cocktail at The Friend in Venice
Wonho Frank Lee
Matthew Kang is the Lead Editor of Eater LA. He has covered dining, restaurants, food culture, and nightlife in Los Angeles since 2008. He's the host of K-Town, a YouTube series covering Korean food in America, and has been featured in Netflix's Street Food show.

The City of Los Angeles will streamline and simplify the process for obtaining an alcohol license called the Restaurant Beverage Program in coming days for sit-down restaurants in an effort to help owners stay afloat amid the current coronavirus pandemic. This means struggling restaurants will have a way to make more money from alcoholic beverages, which typically have higher profit margins, in an already challenging time for the industry. And diners will have more options among local restaurants for beer, wine, and hard liquor.

In order to serve alcohol in Los Angeles, an operator needs to have a city Conditional Use Permit for alcoholic beverages (typically referred to as a CUB) — purchased from the city — as well as a California state Alcohol Beverage Control license. Before this new framework, the process was so difficult that restaurant operators would have to often hire specialists or lawyers to obtain permits, adding to costs and further straining small businesses.

The new program, which was initially proposed in early 2019, will provide an easy-to-navigate process to gain a permit within a matter of weeks instead of customary months-long time frame once it becomes implemented. And while a CUB could run cost upwards of $13,000 under the old system, it will now cost just $4,000. This new framework would replace the current CUB process, and would even allow for restaurants to sell alcohol for off-premises consumption.

Other cities such as New York City, Portland, and Chicago, have traditionally made it much easier for sit-down restaurants to serve alcohol compared to LA’s sometimes byzantine set of rules. In Oregon, a license to serve alcohol is just $400, with a $100 fee to the city of Portland.

Restaurants will still have to obtain a state liquor license, which outlines specific limitations such as beer and wine only (typically under a type 41 license), or full alcohol (typically type 47 or 48). Just last month, California state Alcohol Beverage Control eased rules to allow restaurants to sell beer, wine, cocktails, and liquor to-go provided they were sold along with food in an effort to help boost revenue during the coronavirus pandemic. Bars, nightclubs, and liquor stores will not be able to apply to this new program, and will have to obtain alcohol licenses with a separate approval process.

The new framework’s restrictions will likely result in new alcohol licenses across the city, but will keep them restricted to sit-down restaurants that close by 11 p.m. Provisions that should mitigate potential disturbances into the community include prohibiting live entertainment, table games such as billiards, and outdoor music. In additions, restaurants cannot have more than 30 percent of its total seating be composed of outdoor dining. Recipients of the new city alcohol license also cannot charge a cover, require drink minimums, restrict entry based on age, or engage in other practices common at bars and nightclubs.

Neighborhood councils and City Council district offices will be notified of any pending applications while restaurants under the program will have to clearly display licenses to note their compliance. Residents can report violations to the Department of Public Safety or police department. Other cities within LA county, such as Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, and West Hollywood, will have their own alcohol license permitting system.

While LA’s restaurants suffer declining sales, dining room closures, and either temporary or permanent closures during the pandemic, this new framework should allow for restaurants to return to business as usual once social distancing measure ease in the coming months.

This article has been updated.