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Tennessee Liquor Laws Not Friendly to International Tourists at 2015 CMA Fest

Jun 11, 2015

Fan Fair is here.  Nashvillians are decidedly divided about the influx of nearly 100,00 country music fans for the annual CMA Fest, previously known for years as Fan Fair.

Many locals hate it; we love it.  Nearly everyone loathes the traffic.

Country music is popular overseas and CMA Fest is attracting a fair share of international fans.  Herein lies the collision of Tennessee liquor laws and Nashville's largest tourist event.

Although state law does not require mandatory carding for the sale of beer, wine and spirits at restaurants, bars and venues in Tennessee, purveyors of alcohol are strictly liable for sales to minors and violators face harsh sanctions. The Tennessee ABC has intensified compliance checks for sales to minors and license holders have seen a sizable uptick in citations.

We think it is safe to say that the industry is justifiably concerned about the impact of ABC stings.

For a tourist mecca like Nashville to thrive, folks must be friendly to tourists.  Imagine being an Irish music fan at one of our favorite watering holes, Robert's Western World on lower Broad.  You order a PBR in a can.  The bartender asks for an ID.  Your passport is at your hotel, where it should be, so you whip out your Irish driver's license, which looks a lot like this:

The bar is mobbed, the bartender gets fired and criminally charged for selling to a minor, so the bartender says sorry, I cannot serve you.  Not exactly a positive Nashville experience for an Irelander.

We applaud Nashville Convention & Visitors chief Butch Spyridon for publicly asking folks to respect our international travellers with unfamiliar IDs.

We will never forget being stopped in college by a French army officer in Paris who asked for ID and all we had was our lowly Tennessee driver's license.  Facing an unfriendly serviceman in uniform with a large rifle, it totally sucked to hear that the ID was not acceptable and that we needed to show a passport, which of course, was safely stored at our hotel.

Calls to mind Simon and Garfunkel's hit America:

So we bought a pack of cigarettes,
And Mrs. Wagner's pies,
And walked off
To look for America.

Mr. Spyridon's e-mail is below:

Required identification for purchase of alcoholic beverages. Each year, I get complaints from international visitors regarding their government issued ID's being declined as a valid means to purchase alcohol in some area restaurants and bars. Some have reported that local businesses state that passports are the only accepted form of ID for international visitors attempting to purchase alcohol. I requested clarity of the law and acceptable forms of identification from Keith Bell, executive director of the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission. You will note from his email copied below that there is no state law requiring establishments to ID patrons. Additionally, if you elect to ID, any government issued ID (including from a foreign government) is acceptable for the purpose of identifying someone's age to purchase alcohol. We do not want to encourage our visitors to carry their passports with them while they're out enjoying our city for safety reasons. Our international visitation rate is increasing monthly, and particularly this week, we have visitors from over 23 countries visiting Nashville. I respectfully ask that you please consider your policies for acceptable forms of identification from our international visitors, and if need, update them to allow for more easy of purchase for our guests. If you have any questions or comments regarding this issue, please contact me at Thank you in advance for all you do for our visitors. From: Keith Bell []
Sent: Wednesday, June 10, 2015 10:29 AM
To: Butch Spyridon
Cc: Ginna Winfree; Joshua Stepp; Melvin Brown; Juan Gomez; Terry S. Hill; Bond Tubbs; James Richardson
Subject: RE: Server permit A validly issued foreign government's driver's license or a validly issued foreign government's passport is, for TABC purposes, considered a validly issued government identification for the person for whom it is issued and may be used for identification purposes in the purchase of alcoholic beverages within the State of Tennessee. There is no TN law or TABC rule requiring a restaurant to id at all. There is the criminal penalty if they serve someone under 21 years. However, many, if not all, of the finer restaurants have a company policy of carding everyone and not serving unless a valid government id is provided. Unfortunately, most restaurants tell customers they are required by law or the TABC and it's not the case. Some other states have a mandatory carding in restaurants and if you go to a restaurant that has a national presences the company puts in place one uniform policy for all locations and requires carding.

E. Keith Bell
Attorney at Law
Executive Director
Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission
Davy Crockett Tower
500 James Robertson Pkwy, 3rd Floor
Nashville, TN 37243
(615) 741-7620

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