By David A. Farrell/The Picayune Item
PICAYUNE – The American Legion McSween Johnston Post 73 is the second establishment that has taken steps to apply for a liquor-by-the-drink license in Picayune.
The American Legion Post’s legal notice began running this month announcing its intention to seek a liquor license.
Earlier, WOW Cafe and Wingery became the first business to run a legal notice and will probably be the first restaurant to acquire one.
WOW is a true restaurant and the new ordinance requires any restaurant filing for a license to derive at least 50 percent of its sales from food.
Officials said it will probably be March before any actual legal liquor beverages are served in Picayune.
The new ordinance, which was adopted on Dec. 16 by the Picayune City Council, is detailed about who can serve liquor-by-the-drink and who controls the issuance of licenses and permits.
The ordinance covers three categories: restaurants, hotels and private clubs. These three categories were carefully drawn to block regular stand-alone type bars from appearing, in other words “honky-tonks” or “strip joints.” The 50 percent food rule does not apply to private clubs and hotels.
The way the ordinance was drawn as relates to clubs fits only three private clubs operating here: the American Legion, the VFW and Millbrook Golf and Country Club. No other clubs would be eligible for a license because a club must have been incorporated before July 1, 1966, and must be a not-for-profit club, according to the ordinance.
Also significant is the hours liquor can be served. It’s 10 a.m. to midnight seven days per week, 4 p.m. to midnight at hotels, and 10 a.m. to midnight at private clubs. On New Year’s Eve, hours run until 2 a.m. on Jan. 1.
Hotels can serve liquor only to their patrons under the ordinance.
It prohibits any curbside service. A patron must be inside a certain described area within the business, club or hotel, to be served any beverage.
The ordinance also sets up a three-member panel to oversee and authenticate documentation for a licensee, and then make a recommendation to the Picayune City Council, which has the final say in the matter.
The panel includes the city manager, the police chief and city clerk. The panel can also demand from any business at any time that it prove by documentation that it is fulfilling the requirements of the law. The ordinance stipulates annual reports but the city can demand more if it feels the need.
If the paper work is in order, the council is obliged to approve it. Applicants can appeal rulings. Applicants who apply for a permit also have to meet all state requirements and obtain a state license, too.
The city ordinance is, as officials said before it was approved by Picayune voters on Nov. 9, geared to give city officials, including the three-member panel, control over who is awarded and who continues to hold a license.
The penalty for violating the law is a $1,000 fine and a maximum 90 days in jail, and a revocation of the license.
There has never been a legal drink of liquor served in Pearl River County since its founding in 1892.
The county has been virtually a dry island in a wet sea, surrounded by Mississippi counties and Louisiana parishes that are wet. The rest of the county and Poplarville remain dry.
Picayune was allowed a vote on the liquor issue by a state law that permits areas designated a resort area by voters to serve liquor-by-the-drink. Voters in Flowood, east of Jackson, did the same thing as Picayune, using the new law.
Technically, what Picayune voters did on Nov. 9 was to allow Picayune to be designated a “resort status,” allowing establishments to serve liquor-by-the-drink, although the county voted dry.
Proponents said it would be an economic stimulus to the local economy, would help keep tax money at home and would attract upscale restaurants to locate here. Opponents said it was ridiculous to call Picayune a “resort area” and legalizing liquor here would not solve Picayune and Pearl River County’s economic woes.
Businesses wanting a license pay a license fee of $3,000 to the city, plus fees to the state.