Music venue defeats liquor license challenge

Under-21 year olds can continue rocking out at the Great American Music Hall, after the popular Tenderloin district venue defeated a year-old legal challenge by state liquor licensors.

After an undercover California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control agent was told to buy a concert ticket if he wanted to dine inside the music hall, the agency alleged the venue was violating conditions of its restaurant-style liquor license, which allows minors onto the premises.

The venue was operating more like a nightclub than a restaurant, the ABC claimed.

But an administrative law judge rejected ABC’s accusations that the venue illegally changed its operations in recent decades without department consent, prompting General Counsel Matthew Botting this week to drop the complaint.

The nightclub serves an average of 100 meals to crowds of 350 concertgoers five nights per week, case documents show.

The ABC brought cases against a number of all-ages, food-serving San Francisco venues since 2008, including the Bottom of the Hill Café in Potrero Hill, Slim’s in South of Market and Café du Nord on Market Street.

Entertainment industry members say the cases are part of a concerted effort to crack down on all-ages music venues.

“The market for live music is pretty much 18 to 24 year olds,” said attorney Mark Rennie, who successfully defended the Great American Music Hall against the ABC’s accusations. “If you cut out 18 to 21 year olds, you basically kill the live music venues.”
San Francisco attorney John Hinman said he hopes the dismissal will prompt the ABC to drop similar cases against other San Francisco venues, including Slim’s and Café du Nord, which he represents.

But ABC spokesman John Carr said each of the agency’s cases is independent and that the judge’s recent ruling “does not necessarily” affect other cases.

Carr said the department will attempt to “clarify” its regulations in the wake of the ruling. “We’re concerned about underage drinking,” he said.

Great American Music Hall co-owner Dawn Holliday welcomed the ruling but said she’s worried about plans to change ABC regulations. “We’re throwing confetti – but only halfway,” she said.

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