The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Saturday December 3rd

Skirting the health standard

Private clubs no longer inspected in North Carolina

Bars that apply to be "private clubs" do not have to get sanitation inspections. Zog's Art Bar and Pool Hall is a private club on Henderson Street.
Buy Photos Bars that apply to be "private clubs" do not have to get sanitation inspections. Zog's Art Bar and Pool Hall is a private club on Henderson Street.

West End Wine Bar, along with the rest of the private clubs in North Carolina, is no longer subject to health inspections.

“I think it’s sort of outrageous that we’re not inspected,” Wilson said.

The new rule is an effect of the N.C. General Assembly’s Regulatory Reform Act, which was passed in July 2013. It was a comprehensive bill that was meant to streamline regulations dealing with restaurants, childcare and a number of other issues.

“What was significant and weird about this law was that those bars that served food were subject to the restaurant inspection laws and this law took them out of the restaurant inspection law,” said Jill Moore, an associate professor at the UNC School of Government.

“They don’t have to be inspected anymore, even if they’re operating a full food service.”

Moore said the change was unexpected and she is unsure why it happened.

“To be honest with you nobody knows where this came from or why the General Assembly decided to change the law,” she said. “It’s really kind of strange. I honestly have yet to encounter anyone who really knows why the change in legislation was made.”

Eliminating unnecessary inspections

Moore said one possible reason for the change is to exempt bars with minimal food service from having to deal with unnecessary inspections. Some places were subjected to the sanitation inspections even though they were only handling already prepared food.

“If that was what the General Assembly was trying to do, to exempt those people who have that kind of limited food service, that I might understand, but that’s not what they did,” she said. “What they did was exempt anybody with any kind of food service.”

While not everyone agrees with the change, some businesses on Franklin Street have benefited from it.

Blue Horn Lounge does not serve any food, and employee Wayne Faust said for places that only serve alcohol, the inspections were unnecessary.

“We only got inspected twice a year before that was changed,” Faust said.

“It’s a lot easier to pass health inspections when you’re not preparing food. It’s alcohol so it’s not like we have our hands on the booze or anything like that.”

He said in places that only serve alcohol, the only things that can pose a health risk are the ice machines, which he said are cleaned regularly at Blue Horn Lounge.

“It just makes it more convenient, we don’t have to have a health inspector come by twice a year,” Faust said. “Even then, it wasn’t a big deal, it wasn’t a big hindrance or anything, but it was largely unnecessary.”

Zog’s Art Bar & Pool Hall bartender James Brown echoed Faust’s sentiments about sanitation inspections.

“We’ve never needed one,” Brown said. “We’ve been cleaning the same way since day one. Every time we find something, we clean it up. Unless someone wants to lick off the floor, I see no real need for it.”

Private clubs

The law eliminated the need for health and sanitation inspections in all North Carolina private clubs.

“Anywhere that food and drink is provided to people potentially causes a health hazard,” said Orange County N.C. Health Department spokeswoman Stacy Shelp.

“Even your kitchen would at home. Sure that causes some concern, but food code is written a certain way for a certain reason.”

A private club has to maintain selective membership and cannot serve nonmembers, unless they are the guest of a member.

Before the change, the sanitation inspection exemption was only given to nonprofit private clubs.

In order to become a private club, the owner of the establishment must submit an application to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission.

The application requires the owner to provide a copy of the club’s membership card, as well as its membership application form.

It also has a yearly permit fee of $1000.

Private clubs came into existence when the legislature in North Carolina was deciding on whether or not to allow businesses to sell mixed drinks.

“When North Carolina finally adopted liquor permits in the late 1970s, the legislature and the ABC Commission made a policy decision that North Carolina wasn’t going to have bars,” said School of Government professor Michael Crowell.

Crowell said the right to serve mixed drinks was given instead to restaurants, and in order to qualify to sell mixed drinks, a certain percentage of the restaurant’s business had to come from food sales.

“The exception to having to serve food was a private club,” Crowell said.

“It’s not a place where the public can just walk in and get a drink. The state was satisfied that that was okay.”

It is this exception that makes being a private club so desirable.

“The benefit of being a private club is that, unlike a restaurant that sells mixed drinks, you don’t have to sell any particular amount of food,” Crowell said.

“If you’re a restaurant and you want to have a mixed drink permit and keep it you can’t just have a bar. You have to sell food and it has to be a certain percentage of your business.”

Private clubs are still required to undergo inspections from Alcohol Law Enforcement and the ABC Commission, but those inspections do not deal with health and sanitation, he said.

“They’re not interested generally in sanitation,” Crowell said. “They’re interested in the compliance of the ABC laws.”

In Orange County, 22 establishments are registered as private clubs, including eight on Franklin Street and five on Rosemary Street.

“I was surprised when I found out that they’re no longer inspected,” Wilson said.

He said he believes all places that serve food should be inspected. He said even though West End Wine Bar doesn’t serve a lot of food, it should still have to be inspected anyway.

“I don’t worry about us because I know the quality of work that we produce, but I do worry about Joe Schmo’s run-down bar,” Wilson said.

“That guy can serve warm oysters on half shells if he wants and there’s no regulatory agency to say ‘you can’t do that.’”

Despite his general concern, Wilson doesn’t think West End Wine Bar poses any health risks because of the new law.

“We always carried very high sanitation grades,” Wilson said.

“It doesn’t really affect us either way, but I do worry about other people.”


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