State, local laws dictate bar closing, liquor sale times

Newcomers to North Dakota often ask two things: Why nothing is open until noon on Sunday and why do the bars close so early? State law dictates both.

Town and Country Liquor in Dickinson displays its liquor license and other essential documents behind its cash registers, as shown here Tuesday evening.

Newcomers to North Dakota often ask two things: Why nothing is open until noon on Sunday and why do the bars close so early? State law dictates both.

In terms of alcoholic beverages, the state controls when and where businesses can sell them, and local governments can add further restrictions.

"Regulations obviously need to adapt," said Jon Godfread, vice president of government affairs for the Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce. "I think that's something a lot of communities in North Dakota are running into where some of these antiquated laws that were put in place for very good reasons have come to -- they've served their purpose and now our communities are expanding, our communities are growing."

Fargo recently updated its liquor laws, Godfread said.

"They're growing at such a fast rate that it doesn't make sense to have some of the same restrictions that they've had in the past," Godfread said. "I would probably encourage Dickinson to do the same."


In Dickinson, alcohol may not be sold before noon on Sunday or before 8 a.m. any other day of the week, according to state law. The latest sale allowed by state law is 2 a.m. Dickinson city ordinance brings that restriction up an hour, to 1 a.m. and no on-sale (in-bar) drinks may be purchased after 12:45 a.m.

Other restrictions include banning alcohol sales during Christmas starting at 6 p.m. Christmas Eve through Christmas Day and no sales on Thanksgiving after bars close at 1 a.m.

"There may be some state parameters, but I think there's a lot of local control and a lot of local room to navigate those waters and it's really up to the locals to make those decisions," Godfread said.

While local ordinance stops bars from serving past 12:45 a.m., it does not say that patrons must leave or stop drinking. State law prohibits alcohol being consumed on the premises of a license holder after 2 a.m., but does not dictate that the premise be vacated.

Allowing customers to stay past last call might not be in a bar owner's best interest, Dickinson Police Capt. Dave Wilkie said.

"I think you would be opening a Pandora's Box there because there's no way you wouldn't be able to serve alcohol," Wilkie said. "You wouldn't have any way of controlling it. There's always going to be that person who sneaks a bottle of beer in his pocket."

Allowing customers to stay after hours also means the staff gets home later, Wilkie said.

"The reason they push them out is because they want to get rid of them," Wilkie said. "They want to get home too."


State law also dictates that a business such as a grocery or convenience store must separate its liquor sales area clearly from the unlicensed portion of the store with a wall.

The city of Dickinson has a cap on the number of full on-sale/off-sale (in-store) liquor licenses it issues to bars and liquor stores. A single license holder can open both a bar and a liquor store with the license, such is the case with the owners of Army's West Sports Bar/Budget Liquors and The Rock Bar/The Rock Liquor. The licenses also allow for off-sale at the bar.

There are 17 such licenses in the city held by nine liquor stores, six bars and two that operate two businesses under one license.

There are seven other classes of liquor license, one designated for a lodge or club, for hotels or motels with at least 75 rooms, a restaurant full license, a beer and wine, a restaurant beer only, a military club beer and wine and a microbrewery license. There are no license holders under the latter two classes.

The city may add an 18th full on-sale/off-sale liquor license in 2014.

Giving local governments control of their liquor licenses is very much in line with the North Dakota spirit, said Rudie Martinson, executive director of the North Dakota Hospitality Association, which represents restaurants, bars and hotels within the state.

"The community in which that's happening and the residents of that community should be the ones deciding to what extent they want those types of businesses operating," Martinson said.

At its last meeting, the Dickinson City Commission considered a proposal to add a ninth license class that would allow for off-sale purchase of beer and wine in grocery or convenience stores. Commissioners weren't keen on the idea.


"I know it's prevalent when you go to South Dakota -- it always strikes me, 'Oh yeah, you can do that here,'" Commissioner Klayton Oltmanns said on Sept. 16. "I really, for the life of me, can't think of another community in North Dakota that is offering this."

Local governments need to reevaluate and figure out what works for modern times, Godfread said.

"A legal product to be offered in a responsible manner I don't think is too much to ask," Godfread said.

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