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Palm Coast Moves to Restrict Bottle Clubs, Speakeasies that Skirt Booze Regulations

| November 18, 2015

bottle clubs juke joints booze

It’s an old story in Florida: State Beverage Agents taking inventory of confiscated illegal whiskey at a juke joint in Tallahassee, 1959. (Florida Memory)

There are no bottle clubs in Palm Coast or Flagler County. But Palm Coast government is moving to strictly regulate that type of business—and possibly, like Flagler Beach or Daytona Beach, to ban it—in response to local businesses’ fears that bottle clubs may soon open locally.

A bottle club is a bring-your-own-liquor-bottle speakeasy where selling alcohol is not allowed, but consuming it is. Bottle clubs have a checkered history. At one time some governments preferred them to bars, soon after Prohibition was repealed, because they were easier to supervise. In some of the dryer states, and for years after Prohibition, bottle clubs were the only way for people to drink socially, outside their home. These days even in Okalhoma (where prohibition was repealed only in 1959), barely three clubs existed in the entire state two years ago, according to the Oklahoman.

Some states ban such clubs (among them Alaska and Montana). Some states don’t mention them in their laws. And some, like Florida, allow them, but the clubs must be licensed and follow local regulations, and localities are free to ban them, as some do.

They’re not rampant. But when they make the news, it’s not usually because the clubs are making a civic contribution to their community. It tends to be the reverse. Volusia and Hillsborough have had a particularly difficult time with the few such clubs in their jurisdiction.

In Hillsborough, a shooting at Thee Crazy Horse bar on West Hillsborough Avenue earlier this year drew attention to the bottle club next door, owned by the same people who operate the bar, and kept open past 3 a.m., when bars are required to close in Hillsborough. Two such businesses had drawn some 130 calls for service from 911 in 13 months. In May, 11 people were arrested at one of the two clubs (Glo Ultra Lounge, outside of which the shooting took place) for selling alcohol without a license.

Same story in Volusia. “Law enforcement has a long history with this type of establishment, especially Volusia County,”  the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office’s Mark Carman said.

“These businesses, establishments, they’re really taxing on law enforcement., They stretch our resources beyond the limit with manpower issues.”

He cited from a 17-page report from Volusia County, summarizing the type of calls of service Volusia handled in that regard in just under two years. There were 453 calls for service to a bottle club on Nova Road, 44 of those because of fights, six for involving a weapon of one type or another. The club also had “two homicide-related incidents,” one in the parking lot, where an individual was shot and killed, and one in May where a fight escalated into a car chase between two parties, resulting in a homicide elsewhere during the morning commute.

But Volusia in July restricted bottle clubs’ operations by prohibiting their operations past 2 a.m. There were three such clubs in the county. None survived the regulations, according to the News-Journal. (When Lakeland cut bottle clubs’ hours three decades ago, it also wiped them out of business.)

“This isn’t the kind of establishment we want in Palm Coast,”  Carman said.

A couple of weeks ago City Manager Jim Landon got a phone call from a business owner who has a business in Flagler and businesses in Volusia County, where he’d had bad experiences with bottle clubs. He asked if the council could do something to avoid what he’d seen in Volusia. Other business owners—from St. Joe’s Plaza and especially from City Market Place, where one such business was said to be opening soon—subsequently called and wrote, with similar concerns.

Tuesday evening, the Palm Coast city Council voted unanimously to approve a resolution that sets in motion the city’s process of analyzing and likely further regulating bottle clubs. In the meantime no one can apply—not to ban them exactly, but to avoid grandfathering in a business that may be permitted under existing rules, should more restrictive rules be adopted.

“We’re not ready to talk about the regulations, we’re just saying why we think they should be considered for regulations, and then bring those to you in the future, but in the meantime not allow someone to apply ahead of time,” Landon said.

Mayor Jon Netts, anticipating the issue, contacted other mayors in the county. The goal, he said, was to protect the city but “not simply to displace” the problem elsewhere, so he suggested other cities should consider the same approach. This evening, the Palm Coast Planning and Land Development Board is expected to approve a 120-day moratorium on permitting bottle clubs, pending the new regulations.

The city has taken similar approaches with adult entertainment, internet cafes, pill mills, flavored tobacco (with a more advisory than regulatory hand in that case), and briefly, when the state’s voters looked like they might approve medical uses of the stuff, marijuana.

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11 Responses for “Palm Coast Moves to Restrict Bottle Clubs, Speakeasies that Skirt Booze Regulations”

  1. groot says:

    We do not want these in the community. They’re also known as after hours clubs or cabarets. They attract drunks, gang activity, drugs, prostitution and subsequent crime. This is not like a little mom and pop restaurant that does not have a wine and beer license allowing patrons to bring in wine or beer and charging corkage. This is really bad news.

  2. jasonb says:

    Yet another law for a non-existent problem, lets ban Sharia law too while we’re at it.

  3. joe says:

    So much for freedom, so stupid something that’s legal in the state is so strictly regulated by Counties. To assume every club would be bad news just because some in the past were, is taking away opportunity from palm coast citizens

  4. Rich Mikola says:

    Just what Palm Coast needs, more trash!

  5. double vision says:

    I don’t want bottle clubs here either, but Mark Carman has a lot of nerve speaking on behalf of a Sheriffs Department that’s dropped the ball in allowing an impaired driver who was publically impaired/intoxicated or whatever kill a local grandmother. Four Deputies turn the car and keys plus the disorderly individual over to a convicted felon on supervision for fleeing and eluding resulting in that death now they want to control “would be/make believe establishments” before they even come into existence! What is this the movie Minority Report? This is more about protecting wallets then it is public safety.

  6. tulip says:

    I agree with Groot. There are enough bars in Palm Coast to go to and they are allowed to be open til 1 a;m. Plenty of time to get drunk. Why bars are allowed to stay open that late is beyond me. What’s wrong with 11 pm?

    Anyway that’s a bit off topic. I hope the council is sensible enough to ban the bottle club concept without a whole lot of discussions. It is a bad news business and will only cause many more problems, as well as bring in out of towners looking for a place to drink all night it and also add to the list of trouble makers.

    If people want to drink a lot of booze, then they should stay home and do it and not cause harm to any one else.

  7. jadobi says:

    I’m curious where you found information that these places are non-existent problems. Look at the defunct Papi’s Bottle Club in Holly Hill (it is the unnamed club listed in this article). I know 1st hand the problems that fester in these establishments.

  8. groot says:

    These bottle clubs are not as much about drinking and individual enterprise as they are about crime. The photo is unfortunately a poor choice. From what I read on the city’s agendas and minutes page where the city posted letters from local businesses and citizens, there is no way this will be allowed in Palm Coast. Local government has done an excellent job of keeping out adult businesses and the other trash. Please ban bottle clubs as well.

  9. joe says:

    So what’s next? Are they gonna ban medical marijuana dispensaries and deny the public access to medicine too? I can jus see it now.Just because someone ran a shady buisness in another county somewhere doesn’t mean every one will be that way

  10. SXYJEN says:

    I think that if being responsible is the thing that’s concerning residents then maybe it should be dealt with like everything else in Palm Coast. MONEY- members only, with cards attached to real time information on their current drivers license(clock in per se)
    , high price for monthly fees(whether you attend or not) , and a donation required to a local community resource, This will get rid of riff raff that doesn’t have proper ID, will have an effect on their wallet, and be easier for police to identify each and every person in attendance at any given time.

    I would love to run an after hours establishment. A nice one. With arcade games, indoor mini golf, sports tvs, movie room, video game room, dance floor, and lounging area with food.
    I would run it like planet fitness, with adult fun things.

  11. CL says:

    Now that the Blue Grotto restaurant and dance club is no longer there, the whole of Daytona lacks a good dance club to go to. We loved Johnny’s Hideaway in Atlanta, and that’s where I met my husband. Johnny’s has been around since April 1979 and still has lines out the door on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. They have a DJ that has been there for decades, and live bands on Sunday. Even people in New York and Las Vegas have heard of the place. LOVE the music and the way the DJ plays it. Wish I could find a place like that in Florida (none are in Miami according to my sister, who used to work in marketing and buying for Bacardi – she loves Johnny’s music too – think a combination of Palm Coast’s radio station 100.9 and top hits today. Palm Coast or Flagler sure could use a top notch place like that (none in St. Augustine either and Jacksonville and Orlando are too far). Maybe someday. In the nearly vacant City marketplace perhaps…

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