How Do I Open a Bar in Pennsylvania?

Beginning a new bar is an exciting adventure for any entrepreneur. Because bars bring people together like few other establishments and enjoy consistently high profit margins, it’s easy to see why many people dream of owning their own bar.

However, selling alcohol comes with unique challenges, especially here in Pennsylvania, where the liquor laws are very specific and strict. When you’re ready to seek out the necessary licenses for your bar or pub, you can rely on our Harrisburg liquor licensing attorneys at Scaringi Law to make the process as smooth and straightforward as possible.

In this blog post, we’ll outline the general process for opening a bar in Pennsylvania, as well as some considerations to keep in mind.

Steps to Opening a Pennsylvania Bar

Planning and Preparation

To sell alcohol in the state of Pennsylvania, you’ll need to acquire all the necessary licenses and business permits outlined by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB). There are a range of different license options for every business type, each with different requirements.

That’s why the crucial first step for bar ownership is creating a clear business plan. Do you imagine your new bar as an exciting nightclub, or as a specialty whiskey bar that also serves world-class burgers? When you take the time to clarify your vision from the start, you’ll be less likely to face unpleasant surprises later on, especially during the licensing and permit process.

Business and Bar Name Registration

Now that you have a solid plan of action in place, you’ll need to register your new business with the IRS and several state agencies – which also means deciding on a name for your new bar. Spend time thinking about a memorable name that fits your business, target demographic, and preferences.

Registering your bar’s name as a trademark can also be a good idea, as this will protect you from competitors and intellectual property thieves alike. You’ll also need to select an official “Doing Business As” or DBA, and create an online presence to market your venture later on.

Finding a Location

Due to state zoning laws, you’ll need to select a location where you can legally open your bar and avoid offending nearby residents. That means working with the local zoning board in your area and seeking any requisite approvals, especially if you’re close to a neighborhood.

You’ll also want to think about how these overhead costs will affect your bottom line, as it can take a few years for new bars to break even. If the rent in a trendy downtown space is too high, you may want to consider compromising on the location for now, and focus on building up a great customer base.

Securing the Right Liquor License

Although every step in the process is important, securing a liquor license can either make or break your new bar experience. If you don’t secure the right license for your bar and grill, or fail to procure a CC liquor license for your new nightclub, you could be liable for thousands of dollars in fines, and face the prospect of an eventual shut-down.

Here are the main ways you can request your liquor license from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board:

  • Apply for an ownership transfer (if purchasing an existing bar)
  • Apply for a brand new license from the PLCB, which awards licenses on quotas
  • Apply to transfer an existing license to a different location
  • Apply to transfer both ownership and location for an existing license

Liquor licenses are a valuable and expensive commodity in Pennsylvania, and you’ll likely have to wait a while before you can officially open for business. Each Pennsylvania liquor license also comes with its own rules and considerations, from dictating your hours of operation to regulating the ratio of food to alcohol sales. That’s why it’s a good idea to review your business plan with an experienced Pennsylvania liquor license attorney, who can ensure that you’re set up for success from opening night on.

About Attorney Frank C. Sluzis

Few attorneys are as well-versed in Pennsylvania liquor licensing as Attorney Frank C. Sluzis, our senior associate here at Scaringi Law. Having spent several years as Chief Prosecutor of the PLCB Nuisance Bar Program and then as Assistant Counsel to the PLCB, Attorney Sluzis understands local liquor laws inside and out. He also currently serves on the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association Alcohol Service Committee. When you need a hand with your new bar, Attorney Sluzis can help you confidently navigate the process!

Ready to talk to our liquor license lawyers at Scaringi Law? Call us at (717) 775-7195 for a free consultation in Harrisburg and surrounding areas!

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