Montgomery Coutny Wine Lovers Support BYOB Law at Hearing
Feldman: BYOB would help MoCo restaurants
By Sarah Gantz
December 08, 2010
When Leslie Shafer wants a case of the Robert Kacher wine she likes to stock at the Bethesda bar she
manages, she plans ahead.
She starts with a call to her liquor representative, who contacts an official at Montgomery County's
Department of Liquor Control, who writes a purchase order that is sent to the Robert Katcher warehouse in
New Jersey. The distributor ships Shafer's order to the county warehouse, from where it is delivered to
Shafer's bar about a week later.
In places where alcohol is not publicly controlled, as it is in Montgomery County, but is instead a private
industry, Shafer says the process would be as simple as a single phone call to her New Jersey distributor.
"I think we're a little behind the times," said Shafer, who does all the liquor ordering for Mussel Bar in
Shafer is among the restaurant managers and owners calling on the county and state to revise laws Shafer
described as archaic.
At a hearing Monday night, four people spoke in support of a bill by Del. Brian Feldman (D-Dist. 15) that
would allow restaurant-goers to bring wine to restaurants with liquor licenses, a move they say is a step in the
Dawson Ahalt, a member of Marylanders for Better Beer & Wine Laws — a statewide group that advocates
for more liberal alcohol policies in the state — said Feldman's bill would benefit Montgomery County
restaurants, consumers, the wine industry and himself, as a residential vintner.
"I make wine in my basement, but I have to drink it in my basement because I can't sell it or take it to a
restaurant," said Ahalt of Mount Airy.
The legislation, known as a BYOB law, is one of six changes to the county's liquor laws the Montgomery
County delegation might pursue.
Feldman of Potomac has said the BYOB law will benefit Montgomery County restaurants by leveling the
playing field with the restaurant scene in the District, which has a BYOB law. Feldman said restaurant owners
have told him they think diners often opt for a night out in the District, rather than in Montgomery County,
because they are allowed to bring their own wine.
"Now, you have to go to the District to take advantage of their laws," he said at Monday's hearing. "[This bill]
is so Montgomery County consumers stay in Montgomery County restaurants."
If the delegation is successful with its proposal, Montgomery County would be the first in the state to allow
patrons to bring their own wine to restaurants licensed to sell liquor, said Lisa Lester, a spokeswoman for the
state comptroller's office. The practice is prohibited under state law.
The Prince George's County delegation is working on similar legislation.
If Montgomery County imposes a BYOB law for licensed restaurants, other jurisdictions likely would seek the
same, Lester said.
"That's sort of how these things get introduced," she said. "Others could jump in and try to make it statewide."
State law permits restaurants without a liquor license to allow patrons to bring their own alcohol. Restaurants
without liquor licenses are not regulated by county liquor boards, which have significant oversight of alcohol
sales elsewhere, Lester said.
Of the five people who signed up to speak on the bill Monday night, only one spoke against the proposal.
Kensington resident Lori Simmons said allowing patrons to bring their wine could pose an issue with liability
in instances where someone is hurt in a restaurant, a concern some restaurant owners share.
But other managers, Shafer included, support the BYOB bill because they think the county's small abdication
of control over liquor could open the floodgates for larger-scale revisions of the rules that frustrate them on a
Not only is it more difficult for Shafer to get the wines and beers she wants, it also is more expensive, she said.
For example, Shafer said, a case of her favorite Belgian dark ale, Gulden Draak, costs $104 in Montgomery
County; elsewhere it would cost $65.
"It's the same bottle, it's coming from the same brewery, it's coming from the same place on the same boat,"
George Griffin, the director of the county's Department of Liquor Control, said he does not think a BYOB law
would mean a loss of control for the county or would necessarily lead to a review of other county liquor laws.
"I think it's more of a customer convenience," said Griffin.
"If it's good for business, then I think generally it's a good thing," he added.
Ron McNeiLL, the manager and sommelier for Morton's The Steakhouse, in Bethesda, is new to the county's
McNeiLL most recently worked in Baltimore, where, he said, "You order it today, you get it tomorrow."
The Bethesda restaurant, part of a nation-wide chain, has a wine list of about 375 selections.
The restaurant began compiling its fall wine-by-the-glass list in June and in September, when that list debuted,
the restaurant was still missing five or six of the 25 seasonal selections that were ordered over the summer, he
Staff Writer Alex Ruoff contributed to this report.