Located on the casino strip boardwalk, the club Stiletto maintains a mercantile license but does not have an alcoholic beverage license. Patrons of the club can bring their own beer and wine, but not hard liquor.
Interfering with this business model, however, are the restrictions New Jersey puts on BYOB locales that serve nonalcoholic beverages. In addition to being barred from advertising their BYOB model to patrons, such establishments cannot charge either admission or corkage fees. Violators face criminal penalties and advertising bans.
Stiletto’s corporate parent GJJM Enterprises brought a suit against the scheme on Sept. 8, telling a federal judge in Trenton that the state’s ban on advertising “bring your own bottle” locations violates its rights under the First Amendment and the New Jersey Constitution.
“Stiletto does not presently advertise the opportunity to bring outside beer and wine to its customers for fear of prosecution,” the complaint states. “As such, Stiletto has censored its expression as a direct result of the advertising ban’s chilling effect.”
Saying it wants to advertise its BYOB status in newspapers and websites, as well as on its menus and price lists, GJJM wants an injunction against the state’s attorney general and New Jersey Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
New Jersey is known for its complex — and often expensive — liquor license laws, which are holdovers from the 1940s and 1950s.
The laws generally limit the so-called ABC licenses based on population within a municipality, which has led to some older restaurants hoarding the licenses and then reselling them to new venues at exorbitant rates.
In some cases, restaurants or bars have been forced to pay more than $1 million for licenses.
New Jersey Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, has proposed legislation to update the licensing system to allow for two new categories of license holders: restaurants that serve any type of alcohol, and smaller venues that offer only beer and wine.
Stephen Holtzman, an attorney for Stiletto with Holtzman & McClain, did not return an email and telephone call seeking comment.