How to Get a Liquor License in New York

by | Mar 26, 2020 | Liquor License

Do you want to know how to get a liquor license for your restaurant, bar, pub, hotel or liquor store in New York City and the rest of the NY State? A liquor license application in New York is a fairly complicated matter and it is always recommended to seek the assistance of a qualified attorney. For a basic outline of the liquor license application process, you may read the following article.


Steps to get a liquor license in New York

Major steps in order to get a New York liquor license include:

(a) Determine if you are eligible to hold a NY liquor license

The Alcoholic Beverage Control Law (ABC Law) states that in order to obtain a liquor license, an applicant must be:

  • US citizen or green card holder
  • 21 y.o. or older
  • a convicted felon (unless in possession of a Certificate of Relief from Civil Disabilities)
  • a police officer with arresting powers

In addition to the prescriptions of the ABC Law, with respect to the nationality requirement the New York State Liquor Authority Advisory Opinion #2015-21 allows nationals of foreign countries to hold a NY liquor license to the extent that their countries maintain special friendship or commerce treaties with the United States allowing their citizens to obtain a E-1 and / or E-2 Visa. Please note that foreigners need not apply for either E-1 or E-2 visas to be eligible for a NY liquor license unless they are planning to move to the United States and lawfully working in their own business. Click here for an updated list of countries whose citizens are eligible for E-1 and / or E-2 visas.

Also EAD (Employment Authorization Document) holders are eligible to obtain a liquor License in the state of New York. EAD is typically granted when an individual has a pending immigration petition for a green card and it takes only a few months to receive it.

For further information regarding the process to obtain E-1 and E-2 Visas for the United States, read our article: Immigration to USA. E-1 / E-2 Visas United States.

(b) Find a commercial space suitable for your business or find an existing business to purchase

If you wish to start your restaurant or bar business from scratch, you will need to find a commercial space suitable to host your business operations. In doing so, keep in mind that obtaining a liquor license in some New York City areas, especially in Manhattan, might be more challenging than in other areas due to large concentration of establishments already holding a license (such as in Soho, West and East Village, Lower East Side etc).

Further, consider the following: obtaining a liquor license for a space that has never had a liquor license before may be even more challenging, and significantly so if you are applying for a OP license (permit to sell spirits for on premises consumption in addition to beer and wine), commonly referred to as “full liquor license”. Therefore, when choosing your location make sure to ask your prospective landlord to provide records of liquor licenses held by prior tenants at that specific address (which you can also do yourself consulting the LAMP – Liquor Authority Mapping Project- page on the State Liquor Authority – SLA – website here). Even upgrading from a beer & wine license to a full liquor license may be challenging if that location never had a full liquor license before.

Same degree of care is required when you are purchasing an existing business. In any such case make sure that the current business owner already holds the type of liquor license that you wish to apply for and that there are no records of violations in connection with the operation of such license.

As a part of your due diligence, you should also make sure that the building or the commercial space you wish to lease have obtained a valid certificate of occupancy or letter of no objections from the NY Department of Buildings. No liquor license will ever be granted unless and until those documents will be provided to the SLA.

(c) Form your business entity (Corporation or LLC)

Make sure your personal assets are protected when you sign a commercial agreement and you start your business operations. Conducting your business as a corporation or a limited liability company will shield your personal assets from claims and lawsuits brought by creditors of your company. Choose carefully the type of business entity that best suits your needs with the assistance of a business attorney or a certified public accountant. For a quick recap of the most significant differences between a corporation and a LLC, please read our article: US Business Entities. LLC vs. Corporation.

(d) Sign a commercial lease agreement or a business purchase agreement

Whether you are starting an entirely new business or you are buying an existing one, typically you will be required to sign a lease agreement or a purchase agreement (or at least a letter of intent) to start your application for a New York liquor license. Please note that for the license to be issued at the end of the liquor license application process you will have to provide the SLA, among other things, with evidence that your premises are ready to open to the public. For a detailed overview as to how to start your restaurant business in New York you can read How to Start a Restaurant Business in New York (& United States). Bardazzi Law may provide representation in drafting and negotiating any sort of commercial lease agreements or asset purchase agreements.

(e) Send the 30 day-notice to the local Community Board and attend the board meeting

Before filing a liquor license application with the State Liquor Authority, a 30 day-notice must be given to the local Community Board. Following the notice, most likely an appearance before the board will be held. Prior to the meeting you will be required to provide several documents for the board’s review. At the meeting you will have to make a short presentation of your application and then you will be asked a lot of questions, such as, among others, your method and hours of operation, food menu and price point, whether or not you will hire security staff, whether or not you will have a sidewalk café, how many bars do you have, what type of music you will be playing at the premises (recorded, live) etc. In addition, people or representatives of neighborhood associations may be heard and allowed to express their concerns with respect to your application, to which you might be willing to respond. In most cases, at the end of the meeting, you will be asked to sign a stipulation with the Community Board whereby you will assume certain obligations, such as closing to the public by a certain time in the night, play music only in certain hours of the day etc. Following the meeting, the Community Board will issue a non-binding determination recommending to the SLA the approval or disapproval of your application. The SLA will be totally free to take (or not to take) the Community Board’s determination into consideration.

(f) File your liquor license application with the State Liquor Authority

Completed the Community Board phase, it is time to file the liquor license application with the SLA. This application includes a lot of questionnaires requiring disclosure of personal, financial and business-related information (source of funds, method of operation, layout of the premises etc). The application comprises of a lot of different sections, in addition to which voluminous material has to be provided. It is important to stress, once again, that you should be assisted by counsel throughout this entire process: even a clerical error in filling out your application may result in substantial delays in the approval process. While SLA’s review is pending you are also required to publish on two different local newspapers, for a certain period of time, a legal notice stating that your company is applying for a liquor license at a certain location.

(g) Final steps

Depending on several different factors, such as the area where your restaurant or bar is to be located, the type of liquor license being sought, the recommendation of the Community Board etc., two additional steps may be required: the appearance at the 500 foot hearing and a SLA meeting appearance. In both cases, the SLA will notify you whether or not these additional steps are necessary. At the 500 foot hearing (to be held only if you are applying for a full liquor license), you will be asked to make or file a statement of public interest wherein you will have to explain why, based on certain pre determined criteria, it is in the interest of the public that your application be granted. Finally, at the SLA board meeting, you may be required to present your case and state, once again, why your application should be granted in the best interest of the public. People from the community may be heard both at the 500 foot hearing and at the SLA board meeting. Assuming that everything goes as planned, you will be served with a SLA notice stating that your application is approved and which additional documentation, if any, you will have to provide to materially pick up your license (referred to as Conditional Letter of Approval).

For further information on the liquor licensing process in New York, you may read our FAQs sections, New York Liquor License Faqs Part 1 and New York Liquor License FAQs Part 2.

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