Bill would allow beer and wine at art galleries


Jessica Fry said there is no reason why she can enjoy a glass of wine while getting her hair done, but not while browsing paintings or sculptures inside an art gallery.

Fry, director of The Signature Gallery in Laguna Beach, hopes to change that dynamic and called on Assemblyman Matthew Harper (R-Huntington Beach) for help.

For the record:

10:28 p.m. Sept. 23, 2023A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Assemblyman Tom Daly as a republican. He is a democrat.

Harper, who represents the 74th District that includes Costa Mesa, Newport Beach and Laguna Beach, authored A.B. 629, which would allow art gallery owners throughout California to serve beer and wine without a license from the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.


Fry’s request came after a brouhaha last November in which undercover officers from the Laguna Beach Police Department and the ABC cited seven businesses, including five art galleries, for serving beer and wine without a license during First Thursdays Art Walk, a monthly event in which gallery owners open their doors in the evening and can include musical performances and new exhibits.

Some gallery owners said they were caught off-guard with no warning of a potential crackdown.

Police said they sent a letter to an unidentified number of businesses about “issues” concerning Art Walk such as amplified music and outside speakers, drinking in public and displays on sidewalks.

Eventually the city admitted that it did not do an effective job of informing owners about related rules.

The Orange County district attorney’s office rejected the cases for lack of sufficient evidence, said Nicole Nicholson, assistant head of court at the Harbor Justice Center.

Some gallery owners have offered complimentary wine and beer during Art Walk for more than a decade.

Harper, Huntington Beach’s former mayor, said his office received “quite a few” calls from Laguna gallery owners. He also read about the issue in news reports.

“I’ve seen the practice [serving wine and beer at art walks in other cities] and it’s not a problem issue,” Harper said. “It’s not a situation where art galleries are turning into bars.

“This is simply people enjoying a glass of wine.”

Under the bill, the cost of beer or wine would not be included in the sale price of art or merchandise. A person would be limited to one drink — 12 ounces of beer or 6 ounces of wine — during the business’ operating hours and no later than 10 p.m.

Drinks must remain on the gallery property, according to the bill.

Laguna Mayor Toni Iseman, with backing from the City Council and Police Chief Laura Farinella, sent a letter to Harper in support of the bill.

As precedent, Harper mentioned A.B. 1322, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law in September that allows owners of beauty salons and barber shops to serve beer and wine without a license.

Assemblyman Tom Daly (D — Anaheim) and current state Sen. Scott Wilk (R — Antelope Valley) co-authored the bill. Wilk was an assemblyman before voters elected him to the state senate last fall.

A license also is not required to serve alcohol in hot-air balloons and limousines, according to state law.

For the last five months, Fry, vice president of the First Thursdays Art Walk board, has paid the $25 for a one-day license from the ABC to serve wine during each event. She would like the flexibility to serve other days.

“It’s not the money, but the time” it takes in filling out and obtaining paperwork for each Art Walk that becomes burdensome, Fry said.

Under the one-day license, each serving of wine costs $2, Fry said.

Instead of concentrating on art, Fry said she and colleagues “are more focused on serving under the guidelines of ABC.”

For example, they must make sure no one leaves the property with an open container and that visitors of legal drinking age wear wristbands.

Fry said The Signature Gallery was not among the businesses cited in November.

The bill awaits a future hearing date, according to a spokeswoman from Harper’s office.

Twitter: @AldertonBryce