Why This South Carolina Court Ruling Could Shut Down Every Bar in the State

April 30, 2018, 1:45 PM UTC

South Carolina has a bustling craft beer and spirits industry, but a recent court ruling could put the state’s bars in jeopardy.

A ruling by an administrative court judge earlier this month found that a microwave does not constitute a kitchen, nor does warming up a hot dog equate to preparing a meal. That seemingly innocuous decision, though, means that hundreds—perhaps thousands—of establishments in the state that serve alcohol are now officially doing so illegally.

South Carolina law doesn’t recognize bars. To serve liquor, the business must be a restaurant or hotel. To circumnavigate that, many bars offer minimal food service options, but with the ruling (which is certain to be appealed), they might have to rethink their strategy.

The ruling came after an attorney in the state capital of Columbia began a push to shut down late-night college bars that cater to college students in his area. Per the 1972 law that legalized liquor by the drink in South Carolina, to obtain a liquor license, a business must be a “bona fide” restaurant, with “separate and distinct” kitchen that must include at least twenty-one cubic feet of refrigerated space for food and a stove.” It also must offer menus and tabled seating for 40 people.

South Carolina’s Department of Revenue says microwaves count as stoves. The court disagreed.

WhileSouth Carolina’s laws sound unusual, it’s not the only state to place these sorts of restrictions on bars. New Hampshire, also, technically doesn’t have any bars. There are only restaurants in that state as well. And in North Carolina, if you want to open a bar without food, you’ll need to classify it as a private club, meaning first-time patrons will need to submit a written membership application and obtain a membership cart.

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