Restaurant Law Blog

Friday, June 12, 2015

Two Cinema Chains Seek to Serve Alcohol in NYC Theaters

Is it legal to drink alcohol in a movie theater in New York City? 

Traditionally speaking, cinematic cocktails were reserved for the actors on screen (think: “shaken, not stirred”) and moviegoers were limited to the overpriced soft drink selections available adjacent to the box office. Over the past several years, cinema outfits in several states have reported great success in combining the theatrical experience with wine and spirits – prompting local New York entrepreneurs to push for a similar allowance.

In Brooklyn’s Nighthawk Theaters, guests are permitted to order drinks directly from servers who discreetly serve the entire theater during the showing of the latest thought-provoking indie film – despite a decades-long ban on alcohol in the cinemaplex. How did this theater get around the prohibition? After aggressive lobbying attempts by both interested groups and the owner himself, the New York General Assembly opted to lighten the mood a little and allow for cocktail service, so long as dinner was also being served in the theater as well. Moreover, patrons were required to leave their seats and procure a drink from a designated bar area – making it all the more difficult to follow a delicately laid-out plot twist.

In 2011, lawmakers opted to budge a little more, and signed off on a law allowing seatside cocktail service in theaters only if the establishment is also set up as an actual restaurant serving meals. This made it easier on the patron to enjoy the flick, but imposed potential major expenses on a theater looking to serve drinks.

Today, two national cinema chains are looking to rework the concept of “actual restaurant” by introducing both an airline-like heavy hors-d’oeuvres cart service along with a “tiny table” that would fold out from the armrest. The owners have yet to hear about the status of their cinema liquor license, but are hopeful the arrangement will satisfy the definition of “restaurant” such that cinema cocktail service will be possible in the near future without the major expense of a gourmet kitchen and fully-stocked menu.

Contact a New York City restaurant law attorney right away

If you are a business owner or would like to discuss your options for serving wine, beer, or cocktails in your establishment, please contact the DiPasquale Law Group at (646)383-4607 for knowledgeable legal advice about restaurant law and liquor licenses.


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