For the past seven years the city has been hosting the popular music series, drawing hundreds every Thursday to the Sun Inn Courtyard on Bethlehem’s north side. Since the beginning patrons have been bringing their own drinks to enjoy while watching the bands, but the Downtown Bethlehem Association cited liability issues as the reason for now disallowing outside booze.
Legally, the state’s Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has no laws on the books about open containers and those laws are set at the local level. The DBA utilizes a ‘special occasion’ liquor license from the PLCB which allows them to serve their own beer and wine within a permitted area during their events. It also holds them liable for everyone consuming alcohol in that permitted area, whether or not the alcohol was purchased via the liquor license holder. That means if patrons bring in their own alcohol and get overly intoxicated or if minors are consuming alcohol on the premises, the DBA is still liable for those patrons.
Interestingly enough, the city’s code regarding open containers states, “Nothing in this section shall be deemed to prohibit the consumption of alcoholic beverages at a function or activity for which a special occasion permit has been issued by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board…” It states nothing about necessitating the purchase of beverages from the licensed authority. A representative of Bethlehem’s economic development office tweeted at us that because the DBA holds a permit for use for the courtyard, they are allowed to serve beverages for consumption whereas the patrons don’t have such a permit, so they would be violating city policy. A review of the DBA’s agreement with the city and comparison with the city’s open container laws show that argument may not hold up. Still, the lessee of the space generally has discretion of how they use the space, despite it being an open air, public venue.
The decision, of course, was not popular with concertgoers and many took to the DBA’s Facebook page to voice their displeasure. One fan of the concerts, Dennis Harbon, claimed the ban is, “the beginning of the end of tunes at twilight. Sad news.” Many Tunes attendees would typically bring coolers from home or fill growlers of beer across the street at Brew Works. A few accused the DBA of banning beverages as a simple money grab to fatten their coffers, while others called for more varied options of brews and wine.
The Downtown Bethlehem Association did not respond to a request for comment on this article, and it remains to be seen how they plan to enforce the ban on BYOB tomorrow evening.