Municipalities Mull Over Offering Liquor Licenses

By Brenda Flanagan

Shaken, not stirred. A creamy martini lures the ladies who lunch to Delicious Heights — a restaurant in Berkeley Heights with an extensive menu of potent potables.

“The atmosphere and the bar and the drinks and everything,” said a customer.

“Our specialty martinis are awesome,” said an employee.

These ladies work or live in New Providence and restaurants there don’t serve alcohol.

“This is one of the only places where we can have a drink, so we usually decide to come here if we’re in the mood for it,” said LaToya Reid.

Berkeley Heights features several establishments that offer drinks with “spirit.” Besides boosting its customer base, the bar at Delicious Heights significantly raises its revenue stream.

“New Providence not having any restaurants right now with liquor licenses I’m sure helps us, but New Providence is always welcome to come over to Berkeley Heights,” said Delicious Heights Host Diane Smullen.

Three years ago, New Providence residents voted to break their old ban on booze and allow restaurants with liquor licenses .

“It would be nice to have something local where you could go kick back with your friends and have a nice relaxing drink at the end of the day,” said restaurant patron Mary.

But nobody’s bought a restaurant liquor license here yet. New Providence does boast three liquor stores. And, as you might expect, the owner of M&M Liquors’ not really keen on more competition.

“It’s just, you don’t want to have people at 2 in the morning stumbling and walking through town,” said M&M Liquors Manager Paul Johnson.

Liquor licenses in New Jersey can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and their availability depends on three things — location, location, location. That’s because each town concocts its own rules — from very very wet to bone dry.

Ocean City styles itself a “family resort” and you cannot buy a bottle or a glass of alcohol here. It’s one of 35 “dry” New Jersey towns — most of them located in the state’s southern half. Like every New Jersey municipality, they’re entitled to at least one restaurant liquor license, under state law.

“Most towns that don’t choose to issue liquor licenses are dry as a result of a town-wide referendum, which may have happened generations ago, if you will — decades ago,” said New Jersey Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control Director Michael Halfacre.

Towns get additional liquor licenses, based on the size of their resident population. Three thousand people gets you one more restaurant license while 7,500 entitles you to an extra liquor store license. Towns generally set a minimum bid and in New Providence, it’s $400,000.

“We did have some interest, but the availability of real estate has presented a bit of a challenge,” said New Providence Mayor J. Brooke Hern.

Other liquor licenses get bought and sold through private brokers. Delicious Heights paid $850,000 when it bought the license here, but says it’s doing a spirited business.