June 06, 2014

I've been asked to do a blog post about restaurants that allow customers to BYOB. And since I'm not aware of any restaurant anywhere that would allow you to bring in your own spirits, so we'll just exclude those from consideration.

So where can you drag along your own WINE AND BEER in Omaha? (If "La Vie Boheme" just chimed up in your head... you're welcome).

Turns out BYOB is great in theory, but not necessarily legal in implementation.

There are many restaurants in town people suggested as potentials, but the initial [written] responses I got from many made me wonder if this were more of an underground scene.

Sure, lots of other cities have restaurants that flaunt their BYOB availability. But it was surprisingly hard to find a list of potential Omaha restaurants that would allow it. That being said, I did find many (many) places that will allow you to bring in a bottle of wine, and apply a standard corkage fee.

Still, people had some suggestions for places I should inquire of as part of my search. I combined these with some seemingly good contenders from Urbanspoon and Yelp for a 'candidates' list.

I pinged many restaurants via Facebook, and got mixed answers (see below). Calling though, is always the best option if you're looking for information - short of actually going to the place and talking to someone face to face.

The general rule of thumb though, is that if the restaurant doesn't already sell liquor (beer wine or liquor) in some format... they shouldn't be allowing customers to bring in their own... i.e. illegal. The real hitch though, is many restaurant owners probably don't know this. But don't worry, this kind of misunderstanding happens in L.A. and New York too. 

When it comes to legality, the first smoking gun I found was on the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission's "Do I Need a Liquor License?" page:
#6 - "If we let people bring their own we don’t need a license".

The Nebraska Liquor Control Act provides that any place open to the public where alcohol is allowed to be consumed, is required to be licensed. 53-103(40) defines consume. A license is required if alcohol is allowed to be consumed even if those attending bring their own alcohol.
And if that's not enough, I also emailed the LCC via their website. That question went to Mary, an Administrator at the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission Licensing Division. Mary forwarded to Sergeant Martin Costello, Nebraska State Patrol, Alcohol/Tobacco Enforcement Coordinator - Investigative Services. And Martin forwarded it to Sergeant Lonnie Connelly of the Nebraska State Patrol. 
Here is his response, which is about as definitive as it gets:
Since the State Patrol serves as the primary enforcement agency for the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission as Enforcement Coordinator these matters are often forwarded to my attention for a response.
If the restaurant does agree to allow you to bring your own alcohol they would need to have a liquor license since alcohol is being consumed and it is open to the public.
The type of license needed could be a couple of different classes, but most restaurants hold a Class I license that allows on premise sale and consumption.
I hope this answers your question. Feel free to contact me if you need any further information.
You can search for liquor licenses currently on file with the Nebraska LCC. So supplied with my list of 'candidate restaurants', I set out to do some initial research. Unsurprisingly, all of the restaurants with liquor licenses allowed BYOB - generally wine only. Corkage fees apply in many instances. And they can definitely rub people the wrong way if you're not prepared for them... so better to ask ahead.

The overwhelming 'official' response from restaurants without liquor licenses is that they DO NOT allow customers to bring in their own beer and wine. 

As far as the other 'candidate' restaurants are concerned, I've decided not to even divulge that list fully. Maybe they will allow a discrete customer to bring in their own beverage for private consumption... but it's not technically allowed. Maybe they don't know they're breaking the law. And maybe the LCC will turn a blind eye as long as no-one is calling in complaints.

That's a lot of maybes though, and of course I wouldn't want to draw undue attention to any of my - or your - favorite restaurants that are maybe participating in this practice. After my research, I've discovered several places that previously or currently still will allow a customer to bring in wine or beer without corkage, that are pretty firmly camped in the without liquor license category.

So in some ways this is probably a disappointing post for some. Though hopefully it helps impart wisdom on our BYOB practices.

Any feedback would be appreciated! (Though I'd discourage calling out your favorite BYOB places without liquor licenses for the reasons stated above).

I sent the same format message to all the places, told them I would be writing a blog post, and asked the following:
  1. Do you allow BYOB? 
  2. Beer, wine, or other? 
  3. Do you charge a fee? 
  4. Any other information people should know?
Here are the written responses I got back from places that allow BYOB...

Block 16 - BYOB wine with a $10.00 corkage fee.

Dolce - Allowed with a $20 corkage fee, which is waived if you also purchase a bottle from their list.

French Bulldog - BYOB wine and beer. Although, they charge a corkage fee of $20.

Kitchen Table - BYOB beer & wine with a $15 fee, which is waived on Monday nights! This could be the best deal of them all...

Lot 2 -  BYOB wine with a $15 corkage fee, though it has to be something that isn't on their list.

M's Pub - BYOB wine with a $10.00 corkage fee.

Mantra - BYOB wine with a $12 corkage fee. They also do $12 bottomless mimosas for brunch on Saturday (11am-2pm) and Sunday (9am-2pm)! Sunday and Monday evenings are 1/2 price wine nights also!

Mark's Bistro - BYOB wine welcome with a $10 cork fee, waived if you buy another bottle on your visit. 1/2 price wine nights on Monday and Tuesday evenings.

Nosh Wine Lounge - BYOB wine with a $15 corkage fee.

Plank Seafood Provisions - BYOB wine with a corkage fee of $20. Interestingly enough, Plank also offers 4 tap wines!

Salt 88 - BYOB is allowed. Wine only. Corkage fee of $20/bottle. Wine list includes 166 bottles "with a great emphasis on California and Italian Wines. We also feature unknown varietals to the Omaha market".

Taita Restaurant - Exception to the trend, Taita will allow some spirits to be brought in. Plus wine and beer. Corkage fee of $15 applies. They accommodate lots of request from guests asking for specific bottles within reason. If you give them a heads up, they could put together whatever you're looking for.

V. Mertz -  BYOB wine with a corkage fee (I'm assuming $20). Though they do waive corkage if you also purchase a bottle from their list. They're also amenable to guests bringing in sherry, craft beer, port, etc - given the circumstances. So just ask away! Even if you don't want to drink the second bottle there, they're more than happy to send you home with one.

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