Denton Restaurant And Bar Owners Are On A Mission To Ease Liquor Laws In The City. Here's Why.

Considering that it's a college town, getting alcohol in Denton is stupid tough.

If you've ever gone to a bar in the city, you know well with the tedious process of just trying to get in. Thanks to the private club system currently in place, it's a process that typically goes something like this: You wait around for the person at the door to swipe your ID through the system, then for the system to print out a little slip of paper that you have to then sign. Only then can you gain entrance.

Planning on going out on one of the busier nights of the week? Well, prepare to add an extra 20 minutes or so to your routine to account for the extra time you'll spend just waiting in line alone.

Then again, drinking in the comfort of one's own home isn't much easier. There are no liquor stores within the city's limits. As such, any drinking plans have to be structured around the operating hours of the nearest liquor store in the county — provided, of course, you're not looking to score on a Sunday. Make the mistake of forgetting to pick up your drinks of choice before closing time? Sorry, bud. Then your only options are the beer and wine selections at your local grocery store.

It's a headache is what I'm saying. But it might be changing, as a group called Denton First has formed in hopes of altering these policies and making the city a more alcohol-friendly place.

“It's a group of primarily bar owners, but business owners that came together for a common goal,” says Ryann Reid, one of the group's members and owner of Sweetwater Grill & Tavern. “We started with a group of local business owners — ourselves — going around to other business owners and telling them what we want to do.”

Denton First’s initiatives work towards the upcoming election in November with the goal of taking control of the city's prohibition laws and changing the city's status from dry to wet.

“We want to make sure the voters are educated on what it means to vote wet,” Reid says. “A lot of people think that Denton is already wet. But we're actually damp.”

One of the reasons behind the difficulties of drinking in Denton is the enforcement of private club rules. This is why every bar and restaurant in town scans your license — so your information can be stored in the TABC database, which not only comes off as something of an invasion of privacy, but just a unneeded level of bureaucracy in the eyes of the Denton First team — and one that comes on top of yet other levels. The restaurants and bars that make up these “clubs” must adhere to strict rules by attending weekly meetings to vote new club members in, added business costs for record keeping and permits and fines if those record are not maintained properly. Businesses are also forced to have food readily available during lunch and dinner, placing a strain on business owners who don't have fully operating kitchens.

Being a Denton is a partially wet city means that beer and wine sales are allowed at restaurants and stores, but actual bars have to act under the above private club rules. Restaurants, meanwhile, must act in concordance with mixed beverage laws, meaning that they're only allowed to serve alcohol under the pretense that 51 percent of sales come from food.

But the rules are more than just a hassle, Denton First argues. They're also hurting the city's bottom line, as thousands of dollars of tax revenue are lost by the city and its business owners when people travel outside city limits to neighboring wet cities to purchase alcohol.

“Our tax dollars are going 10 minutes out of town,” Reid says. “That's something we need to change. We need to keep it local, and that's really what we want to accomplish.”

As Reid sees it, the election itself is the second phase of the two-part strategy for reform. First up is the fundraising element. And that part's gone well: The group has already primed its financial foundation by raising $132,000 for a petition committee from its own members and outside investors, says to John Williams, owner and general manager of Oak St. Drafthouse. The money raised by the group's GoFundMe campaign will then go towards advertisement, education and grassroots efforts for community involvement aimed at persuading people to vote. That funding will also go toward hiring a small army of people to canvas the town, make phone calls, distribute literature and do just about anything you could think a successful and professional political campaign might need.

“One of our initiatives — and it's been our initiative from the get go — is that we want to stay local,” Reid says. “We want Denton, first. That's part of our name. All of our efforts are really based on supporting local business, and keeping everything local.”

With the election itself, Denton First hopes to eliminate private club rules in exchange for a simple ID date checking policy, thus leveling the playing field with restaurants that operate under mixed beverage laws. The law reform would also bring liquor stores and jobs to the area — something Denton First estimates could generate upwards of an estimated $700,00 a year in revenue.

Then there's the many University of North Texas students of drinking and voting age — the ones Reid says are affected most by the issues and, perhaps, could end up being the swing votes on the matter.

“These kids understand the private club aspect of what we’re doing better than most,” Reid says. “Business owners, they understand the taxing.”

It's worth noting, however, that past attempts at these changes have failed. No matter, says Reid. Things are different now.

“It’s time,” Reid says. “As Denton continues to grow, those [tax] dollars could be used at home to make the city even better.”

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