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Legislators urge Liquor Control Board to tighten rules for use of catering permits

They say the law allows unlicensed pop-up beer gardens to operate, which was never the intent.

The PHS Pop Up Beer Garden at 313 S. Broad Street on Thursday, July 18, 2013.  ( Yong Kim / Staff Photographer )
The PHS Pop Up Beer Garden at 313 S. Broad Street on Thursday, July 18, 2013. ( Yong Kim / Staff Photographer )Read more / File Photograph

FOUR PENNSYLVANIA state legislators have sent a letter to the Liquor Control Board expressing "grave concern" over the way it interprets laws that allow some places such as pop-up beer gardens to run continuously, and demanding an end to the practice.

Under the law, liquor licensees can purchase a catering permit to serve alcohol for a few hours during private events, such as weddings, held at unlicensed locations. Instead, the licensees have been buying multiple permits at one time and using them interchangeably to run beer gardens for weeks at a time.

In the two-page letter dated Thursday and signed by state Reps. John Taylor, R-Philadelphia; Paul Costa, D-Allegheny; and state Sens. Chuck McIlhinney, R-Bucks, and Jim Ferlo, D-Allegheny, the legislators said the board is ignoring provisions of the law by creating public events that can go on for an "endless number of days."

They contend the practice is an "attempt to permanently establish a retail liquor establishment at an unlicensed location."

"Off-premise catering permits are a useful tool offered to our licensees in order to provide a service to the public," they wrote. "However, the application of the law by your agency allows for the purposeful misuse of the permits."

The letter came one day after loopholes in the law were outlined in a Daily News story about how some pop-ups in the city operate. By having multiple catering permits and partner bars, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society's pop-up on South Street, for example, is able to stay open for 10 hours every day during the summer.

Taylor, chairman of the House Liquor Control Committee, said a liquor license is needed to hold one of these events. But the intent of the law is not for a company to open up an additional shop for a good portion of the year, he said.

"To run 120 days, seven days a week, 12 hours a day, that's certainly not what we intended," Taylor said.

He said he's scheduled to talk with Liquor Control Board chairman Joseph "Skip" Brion on Monday. If the interpretation of the law does not change, Taylor said, legislators will work to amend it.

In a statement, Brion said he is reviewing the law and documents related to pop-ups. Brion said he's been talking to legislative leaders and will speak with the full board once he's reviewed all of the information.