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Why did the ABC board require bars to become private clubs and that patrons must sign in?

Jim Ware
Private club

Patrons have their IDs checked at a downtown Wilmington bar. (StarNews file photo)

This question was answered by Agnes Stevens, public affairs director for the N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission:

“It goes back to 1978 when the General Assembly approved areas in the state to vote on liquor by the drink in hotels, restaurants and ‘private clubs.’ At that time, there was a 30-day waiting period to become a member of a private club by statute. Restaurants were required to sell 50 percent food versus alcohol.

“The ABC Commission was charged with adopting new rules to address the new liquor-by-the-drink laws. Members of private clubs and their guests were required to sign in by rule. I believe the ABC Commission at the time patterned liquor-by-the-drink rules off what the state of Virginia had in place.

“Today, the restrictions are less than they were in the early days. For example, if a business has a kitchen and inside dining area for at least 36 people and does at least 30 percent of its sales in food and nonalcoholic beverages, it may qualify as a restaurant and not require membership or sign-in by patrons. And today, private clubs no longer must require a delay in accepting new members. See the private club rules as amended effective Jan. 1, 2011 below.”

See NC statutes:

§ 18B-1008. Rules concerning retail permits.

The Commission is authorized to use broad discretion in further defining the kinds of places eligible

for permits under this Article. The rules may state the kind and amount of food that shall be sold to

qualify in each category, the relationship between food sales and other receipts, the size of the

establishment required for each category, the kinds of facilities needed to qualify, the kinds of activities

at which alcoholic beverages may not be sold, and any other matters which are necessary to determine

which businesses are bona fide establishments of the kinds listed in G.S. 18B-1000. Rules concerning

private clubs may also include requirements that the club have a membership committee to review all

applications for membership, that the club charge membership dues substantially greater than what

would be paid by a one-time or casual user, that the club restrict use by nonmembers, and that the club

provide facilities or activities other than those directly related to the use of alcoholic beverages. (1981,

c. 412, s. 2; 2009-381, s. 1.)


(a) Use of the private club’s facility shall not be open to the general public but shall be limited to members of the private

club and their guests.

(b) Typical Characteristics. Although a private facility need not possess all of the following characteristics to qualify as

a private club, each is typical of a club and the Commission shall consider the extent to which a facility possesses these

characteristics in deciding whether to issue, suspend, or revoke a Brownbagging, Fortified Wine or Mixed Beverages


(1) Membership is subject to stated requirements that tend to show a common bond among members;

(2) Some limit related to the size of the facility is placed on total membership;

(3) All members are allowed to participate in its organizational affairs, including the selection of officers

or directors at reasonably frequent intervals;

(4) The club operates pursuant to a charter, articles of association, constitution, or similar basic document

and has adopted by-laws, copies of which are provided to each member;

(5) The club has stated objectives of a social, recreational, patriotic or fraternal nature and its activities

advance those objectives;

(6) Membership entitles a person to multiple privileges other than the consumption of alcoholic


(7) Most members hold full rather than limited memberships;

(8) Facilities and activities other than those customarily related to the consumption of alcoholic beverages

are available to members;

(9) Some limits are placed on the number of times a guest may use the facility; and

(10) Guests constitute a relatively small portion of the users of the facility.

(c) Mandatory Requirements. To qualify as a private club, a facility shall meet the following requirements concerning


(1) collect an annual membership fee separate from any admission or cover charge, no dues from which

shall be more than 30 days past due;

(2) maintain a written policy on the granting of full and limited memberships;

(3) require each prospective member to complete a written application that contains questions directly

related to the applicant’s interest in the social, patriotic, fraternal or recreational purpose of the club,

the applicant’s qualifications for membership, and the applicant’s background;

(4) retain each completed application, if approved, in the organization’s permanent records as long as the

individual’s membership continues;

(5) issue written or printed evidence of membership to each member, which evidence of membership or

other reasonably reliable document of identification shall be in the possession of each member present

on the licensed premises;

(6) maintain on the premises a current alphabetical roster of all members and their complete addresses;


(7) maintain and provide to each member a written policy concerning the use of facilities by guests.

(d) Permit Application Procedures. For a private club to obtain a Brownbagging, or Fortified Wine or Mixed Beverages

Permit, the applicant shall submit to the Commission the appropriate application fee and the following documents:

(1) a completed application on a form provided by the Commission, which includes the full names and

addresses of all officers and directors (including those chosen by the membership), and the manager;

(2) the written policy on granting of full and limited memberships;

(3) a copy of the membership application form;

(4) a copy of the membership card or certificate to be issued to members;

(5) the written policy on use of facilities by guests; and

(6) the charter, articles of incorporation, constitution, or other basic documents, and the by-laws, if any.

History Note: Authority G.S. 18B-100; 18B-207; 18B-900; 18B-901; 18B-902; 18B-1000(5); 18B-1008;

Eff. January 1, 1982;

Amended Eff. January 1, 2011; July 1, 1992; February 1, 1986; May 1, 1984.

User-contributed question by:
Bill Bevers

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3 Responses to “ Why did the ABC board require bars to become private clubs and that patrons must sign in?”

  1. On September 15, 2011 at 8:27 pm Red wrote:

    A good follow-up question would be – when will North Carolina join the late 20th century and get rid of outdated notions like “private clubs” and state-run liquor distribution?

  2. On January 17, 2016 at 3:16 am Brent wrote:

    It maybe time to start a petition to the modernization of the ABC laws in NC. I know this is the Bible-belt but the laws seem like a government out of 1984. Also it would not surprise me if the insurance companies started paying the “clubs” for those lists.

  3. On January 24, 2017 at 1:27 pm Tony Giuseppe wrote:

    It’s definitely a fairly antiquated law. Annoying as it is until they change it the law is the law.
    We started using a system that works pretty well and I’m pretty sure they’re ABC compliant.
    Check them out if you’re interested: http://www.ncprivateclubs.com

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