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Movie theatre liquor license: West Acres Cinema looking to add alcohol sales as part of renovation

FARGO — Moviegoers in Fargo could enjoy a cold beer with their hot popcorn as soon as this summer, as the owner of the city’s two major first-run theaters wants to add liquor sales as part of its multimillion-dollar renovation plans.

Marcus Theatres will present its plan to the city’s liquor control board today for adding a “Take Five Lounge” to the West Acres Cinema.

But some city officials say they are wary of allowing booze in theaters, and the city auditor said he’s uncertain Marcus Theatres will get a $90,000 discount on a liquor license fee that the company says it will need to OK the lounge plan.

Mayor Dennis Walaker, who serves on the city’s liquor control board, said he loves going to movies. But he called it a “really big stretch” for the city to start allowing liquor in a movie theater.

“I’ll have to listen to them and make up my mind,” Walaker said, “but right now, it’s going to take a lot of convincing for me.”

Not like a bar

Marcus has six other theaters nationwide with a bar and lounge area offering pizza, sandwiches, desserts, beer, cocktails and wine. The company also has full-service restaurants at three theaters.

It’s an amenity more and more moviegoers are craving, and it’s an “integral” part of the company’s remodeling plans for West Acres Cinema, according to a Marcus Theatres business plan submitted to the city.

Bob Menefee, the company’s vice president of marketing and communication, said they’ve not had “one issue” with selling liquor in other theaters.

Marcus has liquor guidelines that cut customers off after two drinks, and theaters aren’t allowed to offer discounts on liquor with any other traditional concession item, according to documents the theater company gave to the city.

Customers cannot purchase multiple drinks and bring them back for a table of friends, per Marcus’ guidelines.

“This is a casual environment,” Menefee said. “It’s not like somebody going in and spending the evening in a bar. This is meet a friend, have a cocktail, go to a movie.”

The Take Five Lounge proposed for the West Acres Cinema touts an “upscale adult environment” where customers can drink alcohol either in the lounge or bring their beverages into the auditoriums during a movie, according to the company’s business plan.

The liquor control board, an advisory board to the City Commission, will discuss the liquor license request today.

Liquor in theaters?

Menefee said adding the lounge in Fargo depends on whether the city is willing to give the company a liquor license for a lower price.

The license Marcus is seeking has an upfront, one-time fee of $100,000 and would allow for sale of wine, spirits and beer. The theater would need to have a 50/50 split between alcohol and other sales, which could include food, tickets and concessions, said City Auditor Steve Sprague.

The company claims in the business plan submitted to the city that the initial fee is cost-prohibitive. It requests a $10,000 fee.

“I’d be surprised if the board would discount a license because we’ve got other people in town that paid $100,000 to have that license,” Sprague said. “If they want that license, that, to me, is what it’s going to cost.”

There is another, similar liquor license available for $10,000, but it doesn’t allow sale of spirits, and the alcohol to other sales ratio is 35/65, Sprague said.

Sprague said Marcus hasn’t actually turned in an application for a liquor license yet, but he believes it wants to start at West Acres Cinema and then perhaps expand the alcohol service to Century Cinema.

Other than a two-drink limit, Marcus liquor guidelines also call for theater staff to patrol auditoriums “on a regular basis,” and the theater would serve alcoholic drinks in unique, frosted white plastic cups that are easy for ushers to identify.

Sprague said the city wants to remain business-friendly and allow businesses to grow and stay competitive.

“On the other hand, man, where’s the limit?” he said. “Where do we say, no, we just aren’t going to have alcohol there?”

City Commissioner Brad Wimmer, who also serves on the liquor board, said his gut reaction to the proposal was “not negative at all.”

“As an adult, I think it’s fine,” he said, adding that he is eager to hear how Marcus proposes to handle the under-21 crowd often present in movie theaters.

Menefee said local ordinance ultimately dictates whether moviegoers can drink alcohol in the auditoriums or just in the lounge area.

Erik Burgess
Erik Burgess covers city and county government for The Forum. He started as the paper's night reporter in 2012, after graduating from Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn. He was born and raised in Grand Forks, N.D., and also spent time interning at the Grand Forks Herald.  Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to
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