The big alcohol clearance sale in Bengaluru: Deadline to stop serving liquor nears

Bar owners are now grappling with a massive problem looming over their heads – boat loads of liquor sitting in storage.
The big alcohol clearance sale in Bengaluru: Deadline to stop serving liquor nears
The big alcohol clearance sale in Bengaluru: Deadline to stop serving liquor nears
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This weekend, ‘dry’ will be the word in Bengaluru. But until then, the watering holes in the city are selling alcohol at dirt cheap rates, to recover the money they’ve already spent on the stock.

At least 741 bars and pubs will stop serving alcohol starting Saturday, as the central government is yet to decide whether the six important highways in Bengaluru will be de-notified. If they are not, the pubs and bars that come within 500m of highways will have to shut, as per a Supreme Court order.

Bar owners are now grappling with a massive problem looming over their heads – boat loads of liquor sitting in storage.

In a bid to get rid of the alcohol, bars, pubs and restaurants serving alcohol now have “clearance sales”.

The 13th Floor, a high-end bar on MG Road, for the first time in its 16-year history, has a buy-one-get-one-free sale on all the non-imported liquor.

“We have had happy hours and offers on beer and cocktails, but for the first time we have a one-plus-one offer on all the alcohol available. This is what we have had to resort to as we have to dispose off as much alcohol as we can before the July 1 deadline,” said Satish Ekambaram, manager of The 13th Floor.

It’s not just high-end bars - some of the oldest outlets on MG Road, Brigade Road and Church Street too have offers and discounts for customers as well.

Guzzlers Inn, one of Bengaluru’s oldest watering holes, is selling beer for Rs 65 per mug and Rs 310 for a pitcher. They are also offering a 30% discount on the total alcohol bill.

Located right next to Guzzlers is Le Rock, which is selling beer for Rs 69 per mug.

Bar employees to lose jobs?

The uncertainty over whether or not they will remain open has gripped bar owners - and more importantly, bar employees, many of whom are staring at unemployment if the bars shut down.

“Neither the Excise Department nor any of the legislators are giving us clarity on the goings-on in relation to the denotification of the highways. Liquor can be bought and sold, but what about the employees who depend on their salary? We can keep them on for a month, may be extend it to two, but if the bar cannot sell alcohol, we won’t have money to pay them and will have to let them go,” said Ashok Sadhwani, a member of the Bengaluru Pub Owners’ Association.

Santosh, a 27-year-old waiter who works in one of Bengaluru’s oldest bar, has been the sole breadwinner for his family based in Mandya.

“I don’t know if I will lose my job. I have been looking for jobs at restaurants that serve food, but have not got any offers yet. If the bar shuts down, then I will have to go back to Mandya. My family had a 2-acre plot, which we sold for my sister’s marriage. Now we have nowhere to go. I hope I find another job soon,” he said.

Srinivase Gowda, a cleaner in a bar, came to Bengaluru over two years ago. He has been working in the bar ever since.

“I hope this issue gets solved soon. I don’t know who will give me another job. This has scared all of us who work at bars. There is a lot of talk about places shutting down and some people in other bars have been told that they will not have jobs from August onwards. I was shocked to hear that some waiters did not even know that the bars may shut down. They were just told that there was some problem with the excise department. At least we knew in advance and started looking for new jobs. What about the others?” he questioned.

‘Difficult to shift bars’

According to officials at the Public Works Department, Bengaluru accounts for the sale of 21.86% of Indian Made Liquor in Karnataka, and 35.86% of beer sales in the state. All this, out of 3,142 licensed establishments.

“The Karnataka Excise Department has brought a new rule a few years ago and according to this rule, restaurants serving alcohol cannot be set up in residential areas. Currently, due to the Supreme Court order, around 900 establishments of the 3,142 will have to stop serving alcohol. This means a third of the sales will be affected. Numerous jobs will be lost,” a senior official with the Excise Department told TNM.

According to Honnagiri Gowda, President of the Karnataka Wine Merchants’ Association, establishments selling liquor had checked with the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike, the Public Works Department and also the National Highways Authority of India, to confirm if MG Road and Brigade Road were considered as National Highways.

“All these authorities told us that these two important roads in the Central Business District are not highways. Now, all of a sudden, establishments have been issued notices. Star hotels have it bad as they have tourism licenses, which cannot be shifted. We have asked the government to not cancel our licenses until we know for sure if the roads will be denotified,” Gowda said.

Madhukar Shetty of the Karnataka Hotel Owners’ Association said that relocating these establishments is a very difficult task.

“We have to pay an additional amount to get our license shifted to another establishment. If my license costs Rs 5 lakh, I will have to pay Rs 2.5 lakh to shift it. Besides, an ideal spot which is not on a highway or in a residential area must be identified, the excise inspector and the local police must approve of the spot and then we can set it up. It may take a year,” Shetty added.

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