Blue laws putting a damper on brunch in Baton Rouge

“When you look at the economic decline of our community, it can be linked to the oversaturation of alcohol. So any opportunity for us to maintain that delicate balance to keep the community protected — those are the kind of things that need to remain in check.” Councilwoman Tara Wicker

For Sunday brunch at Baton Rouge restaurants, you legally must wait until 11 a.m. to get a mimosa or bloody mary — unless you simply want to go to the store and buy the booze yourself.

The discrepancy is one of the last remaining vestiges of Baton Rouge blue laws, which have been peeled back slowly to allow increasing alcohol sales on Sundays.

Now, Councilman John Delgado said he wants to make alcohol restrictions on businesses consistent for every day of the week, effectively eliminating the last of the blue laws.

“Alcohol sales on Sunday should be like any other day of the week,” Delgado said. “Lots of restaurants that open at 10 (a.m.) or earlier are unable to serve alcohol with their brunch. It’s costing them money; it’s costing us sales tax, and I just don’t see a valid public purpose.”

For years, alcohol sales were limited in Baton Rouge on Sundays. Bars could not open for business, and stores had to wait until after 12:30 p.m. to sell alcohol.

In 2007, voters approved a measure to allow alcohol sales in stores to start at 11 a.m. Restaurants have long been an exception, allowed to serve after 11 a.m.

Last year, the Metro Council voted to allow bars to operate on Sundays, beginning at 11 a.m., and to allow grocery stores to begin selling alcohol at 6 a.m. on Sundays.

Some restaurants, however, have skirted the laws for years and have been selling cocktails with their brunches before 11 a.m., when they open for business on Sundays.

Mason’s Grill, a popular Baton Rouge brunch spot, was recently warned by the Alcoholic Beverage Control board that it was in violation of the parish ordinances.

Donald Hodge said he and his friends have regularly had Sunday brunch at Mason’s Grill, usually showing up before 11 a.m. to make sure they get a table at the crowded restaurant.

But two weeks ago, the waitress told them they would have to wait until 11 a.m. because of the warning from the ABC.

“When 11 arrived, a loud bell was rung behind the bar and the restaurant erupted in applause as if the bonds of Prohibition had been lifted,” Hodge said.

He said he has complained to council members and the ABC about the rule.

“It is outdated, archaic and a result of a mindset by some on the Metro Council that we must all be dictated to in terms of their religious views,” Hodge said.

ABC Director Chris Cranford said his agency issued warnings recently to both Mason’s Grill and the Londoner for serving alcohol before 11 a.m. on Sundays.

The Londoner Grill was brought to his attention via a complaint by a family eating brunch that noticed a sports team ordering drinks, and Mason’s advertised its Sunday specials.

Cranford said restaurants aren’t even allowed to be open before 11 a.m. on Sunday unless they obtain a “restaurant after hours” permit, which costs $150.

He said he doesn’t think more than “a handful of restaurants” are violating the Sunday rules; he added they enforce the rules mostly on a complaint-driven basis.

“But if things don’t change, we may be working more on Sundays,” he added.

Restaurants in violation of the Sunday ordinances can be fined $250, but Cranford said so far they’ve only issued warnings.

Councilwoman Tara Wicker has been a consistent opponent of attempts to increase alcohol sales and relax blue laws.

She said blue laws are part of Baton Rouge’s history and culture.

“We’re part of the Bible belt, and Sundays were preserved for more faith-based activities or family activities,” Wicker said.

But now, Wicker said she generally opposes any efforts to increase the proliferation of alcohol in the community, no matter the day.

“When you look at the economic decline of our community, it can be linked to the oversaturation of alcohol,” she said. “So any opportunity for us to maintain that delicate balance to keep the community protected — those are the kind of things that need to remain in check.”

Restaurants and bars can now sell alcohol from 6 a.m. until 2 a.m. the following day on Monday through Saturday. On Sundays, alcohol sales are limited to 11 a.m. to midnight.

Delgado said he plans to put the proposed change to a vote of the council in January.