Want to be in the booze business in SF? Better know the law 

click to enlarge Dan Kramer
  • Juan Pardo/Special to The S.F. Examiner
  • Dan Kramer, a partner at the law firm Strike and Techel, can help prospective bar owners obtain liquor licenses.
The law is broad and confusing, and sometimes attorneys can be your best friend. But when it comes to selling liquor, they are more than drinking buddies.

San Francisco lawyer Dan Kramer’s work with the law is distilled toward alcohol.

For six years, Kramer and his partners at Strike and Techel, The City’s largest beverage law firm, have served as a one-stop shop for potential restaurant and bar owners and alcohol distributors who want to navigate the complicated process of serving liquor to the public.

“It’s very rare that one would go to law school and say, ‘This is what you want to do,’” Kramer said. “There’s no textbook, no treatise for this stuff. It’s not even on the radar most of the time.”

On the surface, alcohol and beverage law might appear narrow. But to open a restaurant, entrepreneurs have to create an entity, sign a lease, come up with a business plan and then get a liquor license. That’s where Kramer and his people come in.

The walls of Strike and Techel’s office in Jackson Square are covered with maps of Napa Valley wine regions and fluorescent-yellow Singha beer lamps. But the centerpiece, behind the head of the large conference table, is a Tempus Fugit Spirits poster of Mansinthe, musician Marilyn Manson’s beverage, which weighs in at 66.6 percent alcohol. (All of the brands are represented by Strike and Techel.)

One of the more interesting avenues of alcohol law in The City is the method for obtaining a liquor license. There’s a whole cottage industry surrounding buying and selling them.

New Type 47 liquor licenses — which allow for the sale of beer, wine and spirits in a venue that also serves food — are no longer available. Kramer works with brokers to find existing Type 47 licenses, including some that sell for upward of $225,000. Just a few years ago, these licenses ran for $80,000.

Today, there are two ways to obtain a liquor license in The City. New owners must either move into a space that already had a license and have it transferred to them, or they can get one from a different location that has shut down.

In addition to handling licensing issues, Kramer also works on winery transactions and distribution-shipping laws — right down to the very label on the bottle and what it legally must contain.

He also knows about quirky laws in California _ for instance, the $5 cover guys pay to get into a club while girls get in free. Under the Unruh Act, it’s illegal for businesses to discriminate on various grounds, including on the basis of gender. That means a gender-based price discount on admission is illegal.

Ladies’ nights? Nope, that’s also gender discrimination.

Also, those two-for-one happy hour deals are illegal under the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act. Retailers cannot offer alcoholic beverages for on-site consumption at two for the price of one. Nor can they offer “all you can drink,” which implies that people must purchase more than one drink at a time to receive a discount. That’s likely why some places use a system where patrons purchase one beer, and when they are ready for a second, they get it with a token.

Kramer’s work in law started with hotel and real estate transactions. When liquor licenses were transferred as part of a hotel purchase, his group would hire consultant Baxter Rice, who currently sits on the Alcoholic Beverage Control Appeals Board. When Rice retired, Kramer took over the gig.

“I’m truly in love with what I do,” Kramer said. “And I don’t think many lawyers can say that.”

About The Author

Rhys Alvarado

Rhys Alvarado

Rhys Alvarado is a cocktail enthusiast and sucker for soul and sweet reggae music. A food and drink blogger since 2009, Rhys has sipped his way from Hawaii to Santa Barbara and up the coast to San Francisco, where he's found a glorious wave of craft concoctions and expert drink-makers.
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