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How to Sell Alcohol in a Bar

If you want to open a bar, you need to secure a license to sell alcohol. Laws vary in different areas, but this guide will start you down the road to getting the right kind of license for your bar.


  • : The drinking age in the United states is 21. Be aware of the legal drinking age in your area and never sell alcohol to a minor.
  • Step 1: Contact licensing board Contact your state licensing board by locating them online. Different states have different departments or commissions to handle licensing for alcohol. In California the Department of Alcohol Beverage Control issues liquor licenses, but in some states, like Wyoming, local licensing authorities issue bar and grill licenses for a fee.
  • TIP: In Canada, bars require a "Liquor-Primary" license that must be applied for through the liquor distribution branch of the provincial government.
  • Step 2: Apply for a beer and wine license Apply for a beer and wine license if you operate a specialty beer or wine bar. This type of license prohibits you from selling liquor of distilled spirits, so you need to know your clientele's drinking preferences.
  • Step 3: Apply for a tavern license Apply for a tavern license if your bar serves food. For a tavern license, at least half of your revenue must be generated through alcohol sales. Laws vary from state to state, so contact your state licensing board or commission to find out whether they offer tavern licenses.
  • Step 4: Get a club license Apply for and purchase a club license if your bar is "members only." Some counties in the U.S. prohibit alcohol sales, so some bars circumvent the law by obtaining a license to sell alcohol through a private club exemption.
  • Step 5: Set up a beer and wine selection Set up your beer and wine selection after you get a beer and wine license. If you're wine bar, you still might carry a few high-end beer selections, but, of course, you'll want to focus on wine.
  • TIP: Wine bars typically carry dozens of wines by the glass. Offer a high-end and low-end selection each of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Pinot Noir, as well as a French Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Rhone for red. For white wines, start with Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and Riesling, as well as a Champagne.
  • Step 6: Set up a liquor selection Set up a liquor selection after your liquor license is issued. Your clientele's tastes will vary, but every bar should sell a "call" and a "well" vodka, gin, rum, tequila, whiskey, scotch, and bourbon. Stock cordials, such as triple sec and curacao, as well as specialty brands, like Grand Marnier and Chambord. Licensed and stocked, you're now ready to welcome customers.
  • FACT: Alcohol contains resveratrol, which may reduce blood clot formation.

You Will Need

  • Licensing board or commission
  • Internet access
  • Beer and wine license
  • Tavern license
  • Brewpub license
  • Club license
  • Beer and wine selections
  • Liquor selections

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