Council to take a look at ‘Brown Bag’ policy

Wednesday, April 21, 2010
By Cary Shuman

There’s the blue plate special at restaurants, and now the Winthrop Town Council is looking at a Brown Bag special for the town’s restaurants.

Brown Bagging has long been practiced in Winthrop and it involves customers bringing their own beer or wine into a restaurant that doesn’t have a liquor license. Many also call it BYOB, or bring your own beer. It gets the name ‘Brown Bag’ because patrons usually enter with their beer or wine in a brown bag.

However, while the practice has occurred at many restaurants around town, there has never been a formal license or approval process conducted by Town government. Now, that could be about to change as the Town Council considers amendments next Tuesday submitted by the License Commission.

Brown Bagging was the subject of a popular ballot question in the Town recently that won, and also changed the rules for a liquor license. Before, a restaurant had to have 99 seats or more to have a license. Now, that has been changed to 25 or more seats.

For several months, License Commission Chair Jerry Ogus and other members have been working on regulations to formalize the practice of Brown Bagging and provide official oversight. That will assure that everything is above board and there will not be any questions about what establishments can allow Brown Bagging and what establishments cannot.

As the Commission’s proposal states, any restaurant with 50 seats or less that provides tables and wait staff certified in TIPS alcohol training can apply for a Brown Bag license from the Town. There is no indication as to how much that license would cost, if anything.

Additionally, they have also worked with the fee for alcohol licenses and beer/wine licenses. An all alcohol restaurant/function room license has a proposed annual fee of $1,650 and a beer/wine license for a restaurant/function room is proposed at an annual cost of $1,000.

However, it is the Brown Bagging proposal that will garner the most discussion, and most likely the discussion will center around who is eligible; whether it should also include cafes, boutiques and bakeries that present live music and events.

While the discussion has gone on for years about Brown Bagging, nothing has officially been voted on or adopted by the Town Council.

Town Clerk Carla Vitale said that Ogus has already met with the Council’s Rules and Ordinances Committee and the proposal will come before the full Council on April 27.

*In other Town Council news, National Grid is looking to upgrade the Argyle Street power station and will be before the Council on April 27 for approvals. The work will include laying new underground conduit to house the wiring. Only Argyle Street will be affected and all abutters have already been notified.

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