Business Licenses Needed for a Bar

Updated November 21, 2016

Many college students dream of one day opening a bar. While many would like to do it, few realise how time-consuming it can be to actually jump through all the legal and bureaucratic hoops that operating a bar entails. Not only is the process tedious, but obtaining the proper licenses, permissions and registrations are made even more difficult by the fact that bars must not only comply with all federal laws, but the numerous state laws, which can vary greatly from state to state.

Basic Business License

Rules do vary by state, but in general every business must obtain a basic business license from the county or city that it resides in. Many states also require businesses to obtain state licenses.

Liquor License

Obviously, any bar that intends to serve alcohol must obtain a liquor license. This is usually done through the county clerk's office. Note that different licenses may apply for different types of bars. For example, a restaurant may contain a bar that serves beer, wine and hard alcohol, thus requiring it to carry an all-liquor license. Bars that are considered to be taverns will need to obtain a tavern license. This usually applies to establishments that sell food, but make the majority of their profits off alcohol. Note that you must again check with your state or county, as not all states have tavern licenses.

Alcohol Beverage Control Board

In addition to obtaining a liquor license, some states require additional retail and other speciality licenses in order for an establishment to buy alcohol, sell alcohol to patrons or to engage in a number of promotions that may include alcohol samples, catering instances and other alcohol-related events. This is why the federal government has set up the state Alcohol Beverage Control Boards, who have very specific rules governing the bar industry.


According to Public Law 109-59, which is called the "Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users" law, a bar must be registered with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) by filing form TTB F 5630.5d.

Health and Fire Inspection

Your establishment, whether pre-existing or being constructed, must be inspected by the local fire and health departments. The fire brigade ensures that things like maximum capacity and entrances and exits are in order. The health department will want to inspect all areas of the property, including where food and drinks will be prepared, rest rooms and employee lounges. They will also look closely at the floors, ceilings and walls to ensure that they are in tact.

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About the Author

Nellie Day is a freelance writer based out of Hermosa Beach, Calif. Her work can regularly be seen on newsstands, where her specialties include weddings, real estate, food and wine, pets, electronics, architecture and design, business and travel. Day earned a master's degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Southern California.