ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Fans of movies, movie theaters, and adult beverages rejoice. The New York State Liquor Authority confirmed today that beer and wine can now be served in theaters across New York State. The ruling goes into effect immediately, and theaters can start applying for license today.

Theaters that also operate as restaurants can serve all kinds of alcohol, as well. The ruling was made during a full board meeting on Wednesday, and follows a request from the National Association of Movie Theater Operators.

“The SLA’s Full Board voted to issue a Declaratory Ruling that under the Alcoholic Beverage Control Law, businesses operating movie theaters are eligible to apply for a tavern-wine or restaurant-wine license, without the need for a restaurant menu and table service, provided that alcoholic beverage sales are incidental to their operations as a movie theater,” the New York State Liquor Authority said in a statement.

“I was surprised to see to see this. This development, this news, it’s something that we wanted at The Little for years,” said Scott Pukos, director of communications at The Little Theatre. “It’s very good news for for The Little.”

Pukos says that this will opens the door for more collaborations with local craft breweries and wineries, pointing out that beer and popcorn are a perfect combination. It also gives them the ability to sell concessions will enable The Little to sell their independent or smaller budget movies more as an experience, rather than a normal movie-going experience.

“We’ll have a talk back after the movie, we’ll have a discussion about the film, invite the filmmaker either in person or for a zoom chat after the film,” Pukos said, discussing the programming of The Little. “Maybe we’ll do a pop-up with with a restaurant that relates to the movie and we’ll have some element that makes it stand out makes it so people are like I want to come to The Little to experience this.”

The Little Theatre also currently has the Little Theatre Cafe, which does have live msuic and serves alcohol, but Pukos is unsure of how that license could be expanded, or if the theatre needs a separate license.

He adds that theaters in New York City that have table service have been able to do this, and movie theaters across the country have been doing this for years, and this move finally puts New York in lockstep with the rest of the United States.

More background provided by the SLA here:

  • On January 3, 2022 the National Association of Movie Theater Operators (NATO) made a Declaratory Ruling request asking the Members to determine whether a movie theater that does not offer a full restaurant menu and which does not serve all meals at tables is eligible to be licensed under Section 81 or 81-a of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Law (ABCL). 
    • Sections 81 and 81-a of the ABCL allow on-premises licensees to serve beer, wine, cider, and mead; businesses licensed under Section 81 and 81-a may not serve spirits. 
  • While section 64 of the ABCL prohibits the issuance of full liquor licenses (beer, wine, and spirits) for movie theaters unless they meet the legal definition of a restaurant (having a full kitchen and serving meals with seating at tables where the meals are served), there is no corresponding prohibition for beer and wine licenses. 
  • Under Section 81 and 81-a of the ABCL, licenses may be issued to “premises which are kept, used, maintained, advertised or held out to the public to be a place where food is prepared and served for consumption on the premises in such quantities as to satisfy the liquor authority that the sale of wine intended is incidental to and not the prime source of revenue from the operation of such premises.”  
  • NATO’s request for a Declaratory Ruling presented the following facts:
    • The movie theatre is open to the public, food is prepared and served at the theater and is available to anyone entering the theater.
    • The sale of alcoholic beverages would be incidental to the revenue of the theater, with ticket receipts and the sale of food representing the primary sources of the theaters’ revenue. 
  • Based on these facts, the Full Board ruled on January 19, 2022 that movie theaters are eligible to apply for an on-premises wine or on-premises beer license under the law. 
    • The Full Board noted, as with all applicants, movie theaters applying for an on-premises wine or on-premises beer license would still be subject to the same procedures and review on the merits as any other application.
    • Specifically, the Board noted an applicant would need to demonstrate that it has an adequate plan of supervision in place to guard against violations of the ABCL.
    • Additionally, the SLA requires businesses (particularly those that attract young patrons including movie theatres) to have sufficient safeguards in place to prevent sales to minors and underage consumption. 
  • The SLA will be formally issuing the Declaratory Ruling and posting the ruling on the agency’s website in short order.  
  • Declaratory Rulingsare issued at the request of any person seeking a ruling with respect to the applicability of the ABC Law or the Rules of the Authority to any person, property or state of facts. While the Authority has discretion with respect to whether to issue a ruling, if the ruling is issued it becomes binding on the Authority.