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Measuring Up 

Owning a bar in Vermont

Though they don’t rival the government’s voluminous tax code, laws for obtaining a liquor license in Vermont — and keeping it — are numerous, and bar owners and bartenders have to keep them in mind at all times.

State law sets out the guidelines for applying for one of three types of liquor licenses, the purchase and re-sale of alcoholic beverages, and the operation of bars, cabarets and clubs. It can get complex — there’s a reason why many bars have attorneys at the ready.

Here’s a look at some of the “rules of the bar” currently on the books in Vermont:

  • Lighting in restaurants and hotels shall be of such degree that the inspector or the licensee and his agents shall be able to read the identification cards of persons at the table or counter where the person is seated.

  • It shall be the duty of all licensees to control the conduct of their patrons at all times.

    • No person shall carry or consume alcoholic beverages while dancing.

    • No disturbances, brawls, fighting or unlawful conduct shall be permitted or suffered upon any licensed premises; nor shall such premises be conducted in such a manner as to render said premises or the streets, sidewalks or highways adjacent thereto a public nuisance.

    • •No malt beverages may be drawn or served otherwise than in glasses, mugs, pitchers or other containers, of a maximum capacity of 32 ounces; nor more than 4 fluid ounces of spirituous liquor may be available to a customer at one time or used in the making of a single mixed drink, and not more than one of the above containers may be served to a customer at one time.

    • Licensees of the first class dispensing draft beer or ale shall display beer-tap signs, clearly visible to the patrons, disclosing the brands of beer or ale which are being dispensed. Such signs shall be displayed on the tap of the dispensing apparatus.

    • No licensee shall serve to any customer any brand of malt beverages, vinous beverages or spirituous liquor other than that actually ordered.

    • No container may be used under beer taps to catch drippings. A drain shall be provided to care for the waste.

    • No alcoholic liquor shall be sold or furnished to a person apparently under the influence of liquor.

    • No alcoholic liquor may be consumed on the licensed premises by any person apparently under the influence of liquor.

    • No person under the influence of alcoholic liquor shall be allowed to loiter on the licensed premises.

    • No alcoholic liquor shall be sold or furnished by a licensee to a person under 21 years of age, nor shall a licensee permit alcoholic liquor to be consumed upon his licensed premises by a person under 21 years of age.

    • A student aged 18 or older who is enrolled in a post-secondary education culinary arts program, accredited by a commission recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, shall be exempt from the provisions of this regulation while attending classes that require the possession or consumption of alcoholic beverages.

    • For persons of questionable age, licensees shall demand such person to exhibit an adult identification card issued by the Liquor Control Board bearing such person’s photograph and signature, or a photographic operator’s license issued by the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles bearing such person’s photograph and signature.

    • No person under 18 years of age shall be employed or serve as a bartender.

    • It shall be lawful for a person to import spirituous liquor into this state by first obtaining a permit from the Liquor Control Board and a person may import not more than 8 quarts of spirituous liquor into this state in his own private vehicle or in his actual possession at the time of such importation without permit, providing it is not for resale.

    • A spouse, child, guardian, employer or other person who is injured in person, property or means of support by an intoxicated person, or in consequence of the intoxication of any person, can sue bars — and landlords under some conditions — where the person drank, for damages and compensation.

    • Burlington bars with an entertainment license that hold an “all ages” or “21 and under” event have additional conditions to meet, which include:

    • registering the event 21 days in advance with the Police Department;

    • hiring one staff person — not including bouncers, waitstaff or kitchen workers — for each 25 attendees to monitor compliance with liquor laws;

    • waiting five days after submitting the registration form to know if the Police Department will have sufficient staff available on that date to deal with expected enforcment issues;

    • persons under 21 must have two types of non-transferable identification at the event, such as reflective bands or hand stamps;

    • no one under 21 admitted after 11 p.m. or allowed re-entry at any time.

    For more information about regulations and activities of Vermont’s Liquor Control Commission, see their Web site at:

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George Thabault

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Matthew Thorsen

Matthew Thorsen

Matthew Thorsen was a photographer for Seven Days 1995-2018. Read all about his life and work here.


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