Sunday, November 18, 2012

New York vs. San Francisco: Liquor-Law Edition

In my occasional series looking at the differences between New York and San Francisco, I thought I would examine the two cities' liquor laws.

I was inspired to investigate this issue after a visit from my parents, who attempted to purchase wine at a local supermarket (something that's easy to do in California and most other states founded after men stopped wearing tights).

In New York, they don't sell anything stronger than beer at supermarkets. You have to go to a designated liquor store for that, with less convenient hours (for instance, they aren't allowed to open before noon on Sunday).

I should clarify: Supermarkets do sell something like wine. Our Gristedes offers bottles of "wine product," which has about 6 percent alcohol. It looks like wine and the labels can be quite convincing (if you don't read them closely), but it's a mix of actual wine with grape juice, sparkling water and other ingredients.

Unfortunately, my parents purchased one of these bottles and were predictably horrified when they tasted it.

There's some irony here because New York has a reputation for laissez-faire drinking policies. Bars, after all, can serve alcohol until 4 a.m. In San Francisco and the rest of California, last call is at 2 a.m. (San Francisco debated having later hours for a portion of SoMa, but the proposal never went anywhere.)

Ah, but here's where things get interesting. After last call, New York bars can't start serving alcohol again until 8 a.m. on most days and noon on Sundays (an artifact of the blue laws).

In California, the prohibited period is 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. every day. (Having bars be closed until noon on the West Coast would be a non-starter because folks would miss the early NFL games.) Anyway, that means San Francisco bars can serve alcohol for 140 hours a week. In New York, the total is 136 hours.

Now, I'm not saying this is very useful to most people. Who wants to start drinking at 6 a.m.? But if you're a hardcore alcoholic, you're better off in San Francisco.