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How to Get a Liquor License: 6 Steps to Licensing

By
Sarah Ward
Table of Contents
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How to Get a Liquor License

The question of how to get a liquor license has a different answer state by state. The process starts when you submit an application for a liquor license. After your application is accepted, the cost to open a bar begins (the application is the first cost). It’s similar to opening liquor stores, in that you can’t do anything tangible until you have that proper licensing. 

Before you start your application, look into the question of how much does a liquor license cost in your location? The liquor license cost by state is quite varied. This may change your chosen location and your process of how to open a bar

Overall, getting a liquor license relates to every part of your bar opening process. Before you can perfect your margarita recipe or use a variance calculator, you've got to have a liquor license squared away.

binwise beverage inventory demo liquor license

How to Get a Liquor License

To start, the things you need to know are: 

  • Application submission guidelines.
  • The money you'll need to have prepared.
  • The process of getting your specific license. 

Depending on your local government, these questions could have some tough answers. Before you dive in, prepare yourself for the work this will take. This guide will help you on your way to opening a bar as you learn how to get yourself a liquor license.

How to Apply for a Liquor License

The process starts with how to apply for a liquor license. In most places, this involves going to your nearest Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, or ABC, to fill out an application. However, if you choose to buy an existing bar, this process will be different. 

In general, you should contact your local ABC office to learn more. The office will be your point of contact in the future for licensing information and renewals. Having the online liquor license information center of the ABC will help you along the way.

How Much Does a Liquor License Cost?

The question of how much does a liquor license cost will vary. With the vast range of expenses on this list, you can view the differences in obtaining a liquor license in each state. Beyond the basic question of cost, you may have some specific questions, such as:

  • How much does a liquor license cost in California?
  • How much does a liquor license cost in New York?
  • What's the nearest state with a cheaper license? (the best bars can often be found in cheaper liquor license states)
  • What's the most expensive state to get a liquor license?

You'll find the answer to all of these questions on this list. These amounts are from a resource last updated in June 2021. Your particular liquor license cost will fall within these ranges but will be unique to your location and type of bar.

Liquor License Costs by State

A-L

  • Alabama: $100-$1,000
  • Alaska: $48-$500 for application fees, and $500-$2,500 for the license
  • Arizona: $1,575-$1,650
  • Arkansas: $100-$3,000
  • California: $1,000-$16,000
  • Colorado: $22.50 (local fee) and $225 (state fee)-$1,000
  • Connecticut: $30-$3,000
  • Delaware: $150-$2,000
  • Florida: $280-$1,800+
  • Georgia: $100 for new applications, and $150-$1,000 for the license
  • Hawaii: $150-$1,200
  • Idaho: $50-$500+ 
  • Illinois: $25-$5,000
  • Indiana: $300-$1,000
  • Iowa (class level dependent): $936-$2,000+
  • Kansas: $25-$10,000
  • Kentucky: $30-$7,000
  • Louisiana: $120-$400

M-P

  • Maine: $220-$2,200
  • Maryland: $600 application fee, up to $2,500
  • Massachusetts: $1,900-$3,500
  • Michigan: $600 annual fee, $350 per bar
  • Minnesota: $100-$2,000+ 
  • Mississippi: $45-$9,000+
  • Missouri:$50-$300+
  • Montana: $400 application fee, and $400-$800
  • Nebraska: $300-$650
  • Nevada: $75-$550 
  • New Hampshire: around $200
  • *New Jersey: the application is $200, but limited licenses can push the price into the hundreds of thousands
  • New Mexico: $1,300, with renewal fees based on volume, starting at $300
  • New York: $960-$5,850 
  • North Carolina: $400-$1,000 
  • North Dakota: $500-$2,020 
  • Ohio: $376-$2,344 
  • Oklahoma: $500-$1,005 
  • Oregon: $400-$500 
  • Pennsylvania: $125-$700 

R-W

  • Rhode Island: $500-$2,000+ 
  • South Carolina: starting at $325 
  • South Dakota: $900-$1,200
  • Tennessee: $300-$4,000 
  • Texas: $1,000-$6,000 
  • Utah: $825-$3,000 
  • Vermont: $230-$1,000
  • Virginia: $145-$1,430 
  • Washington: $200-$2,000 
  • West Virginia: $200-$2,000 
  • Wisconsin: $50-$10,000 
  • Wyoming: $1,500-$10,500 

Liquor License Cost Disclaimer

New Jersey is marked because it is one of the most difficult states to get a license in. The process of obtaining a liquor license in New Jersey is similar to the process of getting a taxi license there. There's always the chance that you'll never be able to afford a New Jersey license. If that is the case, looking into a nearby place, perhaps Pennsylvania, could be your best bet. You can also look into the Finger Lakes area, where some of the best US wineries could use bars to stock their wine.

binwise beverage inventory demo liquor license

How to Get a Liquor License Renewed

In most cases, liquor license renewal occurs every year. The renewal process may change depending on your area. The office you applied for your license at will be the place you go for renewals. 

Renewal fees can be around the same amount as the original license fee or cheaper. As it goes with liquor license and bar owner costs, the liquor license renewal fee differs depending on your location.

Beyond the Liquor License Cost

Beyond the basic cost, there's a lot you need to know about liquor licenses. From what it requires to keep your license, to what having the license allows, to which one you'll need, there's a lot to learn. Depending on your type of establishment, you’ll also need to learn about different business licenses. Some information on alcohol and tobacco tax and tobacco tax and trade may also come in handy.

What Type of Liquor License Do You Need?

What you need may vary, as the sale of alcohol has different rules in states and individual establishments. That said, the general license types are:

  • Beer and wine license (no spirits, licenses can be type of alcohol specific)
  • Tavern liquor license (food sales, but more liquor revenue)
  • Restaurant or liquor license (most common, covers everything)
  • Brewpub liquor license (for places that manufacture their own)
  • Server license (required for every one of your servers in some states, keep an eye for this in server and bartender cover letter info)

Liquor License Requirements

The costs for these different licenses are relative to what each license allows you to serve. These licenses and fees will change depending on your location, but it’s a good list to start with. You’ll need to get the proper license depending on the type of bar you've chosen. If you're yet to decide, these options will help you decide which one (or ones) will work for you.

How Old Do You Have to be to Get a Liquor License?

The answer to this question is more simple than you might think. To be eligible for a liquor license, you need to be 21 or older. When it comes to the legal bartender age or staff age, that'll vary by state. For the most part, they'll need to be 18 or older.

How Long Does it Take to Get a Liquor License?

How long it takes to get a license varies from state to state. It can be as little as a few weeks to 30 days to as long as several months. In some states, there are limited available licenses. In that case, you’ll have to wait for a business to close or buy an existing business with a liquor license. 

It can take some time to get your license in hand. So it’s a good idea to start going after a license early. That way, you can work on the rest of your bar plan while you wait. 

While You Wait for Your Liquor License

While waiting for a license can be frustrating, it doesn’t have to be wasted time. You can use it to work on your bar plan (and pub layout) and get prepared. Since you'll know what your liquor license cost will be, you'll have a new angle to view your overhead expenses.

Maybe you’ll end up opening in another state. Perhaps you’ll find ways to optimize your entire business plan. You might even completely change what kind of bar you want to open. While you’re waiting on a background check, all your business licenses, and general licenses and permits, you’ll have plenty of time to consider these decisions.

The important thing is to not think of the time spent waiting on a liquor license as wasted time. If you’ve started the process of opening a bar, there's no time to waste.

Frequently Asked Questions About How to Get a Liquor License

Even with all this info, there’s still more you might be wondering about getting a liquor license. Your questions may change depending on where you live, so for these frequently asked questions, we’ll dive into a few states a lot of folks are trying to open up bars and restaurants in. 

What Licenses Do You Need to Open a Bar?

The variety of licenses you will (and might, depending on your bar type) need to open a bar include:

  • Business licenses
  • Certificate of occupancy
  • Liquor license
  • Resale permit
  • Food service license
  • Food handler’s permit
  • Signage permit
  • Music license
  • Live performance or entertainment license
  • Seller’s permit or sales tax license

Of course, some of these won’t apply to you if you’re able to find alternatives. If you don’t plan on having live entertainment, those licenses won’t be necessary. You could avoid a music license by only using royalty-free music. Those types of workarounds can save you money in the long run. 

How Hard is it to Get a Liquor License in California?

In California, it can take anywhere from 90 days up to a year. It could be under three months, even 30 days, but generally somewhere within a six to 12-month range is the most likely. That’s why it’s best to start the liquor license process as soon as you have a bar business plan (which can be similar to a winery business plan). 

How Much is a Local Liquor License?

This question crops up, and it may seem like a local liquor license is something really specific. It’s not. This just means how much it costs for a liquor license in your area. It can range from the low hundreds into the tens of thousands. Of course, it can get even more expensive (we’re looking at you Jersey). 

How Long Does it Take to Get a Liquor License in New York?

The answer is, roughly the same as in California, anywhere from 90 days to 12 months can be expected. Of course, it can fall outside of that range as well. The same reasoning applies to New York as California, and everywhere else too; you should start the process early, to avoid having to sit and wait for a license when you’ve got everything else planned.

binwise beverage inventory demo liquor license

How to Get a Liquor License: Next Steps

After you have a liquor license, it’s time to jump into the next steps of opening your establishment. This will look different for everyone, but some general guidelines (and the best bar books) will help you out no matter what. With the license taken care of, it's time to check everything else off the list. From finding your bar setup to looking into eco-friendly restaurants for inspiration to choosing a barcode scanner app for inventory, there's lots to do.

That being said, take the time to enjoy this. Once you've made it this far, one of the hardest parts of opening a bar is complete. You've learned how to get a liquor license, you've discovered what license you need, and you're well-prepared to open your bar. Now you can dive into learning things like the best bartender drinks, the types of menu you can work with, how to figure out alcohol price, what a standard wine pour is, and so much more.

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