Two Bethel Establishments Reportedly Were Operating as Bottle Clubs

The Alaska Alcohol Beverage Control Board says two Bethel establishments have been illegally allowing patrons to bring in and consume their own alcohol, operating as what’s known as “bottle clubs.” But two conflicting statutes in the state alcohol law put certain clubs in a gray area.

State Troopers and ABC Board teams have been in discussion with Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10041 and an unnamed Bethel restaurant earlier this year after reports that they were allowing people to bring alcohol on site. Shirley Coté is the Director of the ABC Board.

“You can’t BYOB to any premises that under the law would require a license,” said Coté.

Until late April, the VFW allowed members to bring in their own alcoholic beverage. The ABC board and state troopers say because there were no charges filed they’re not disclosing the name of the restaurant.

Michael Calvetti is Commander of VFW post 10041, which has 174 members throughout the Y-K Delta. He says the post was operating under advice they had received from an attorney that under one statute, they are exempt from needing a license. But a separate section of state law specifically outlaws bottle clubs, unless allowed, thus blurring the law.

“Because there is a conflict between those two statutes, at this point, we have said we don’t want any alcohol on the premise until ourselves, the ABC board, and the legislative body get to together and discuss and figure out the exact solution to this concern,” said Calvetti.

Coté says the two statues indeed collide with each other. In this case, she says there are no consequences for what would be violations of the state’s bottle club law.

“We talked to them on the phone, we work with them like we work with a lot of people around the state who are unaware the acts they are doing, they’re unaware that what they’re doing is illegal. We gave them an opportunity to fix it, and they said it was fixed, and unless we get other information that it’s still ongoing, our case is closed,” said Coté.

The ABC board last month discussed a change to regulation that would have allowed the VFW to continue, but they elected not to go in that direction.

The board pointed to a category of license, a club license, that would apply for the VFW. But that would require them to sell alcohol, but Calvetti says the membership does not want to be in that business.

When Bethel voted to go wet in 2009, six establishments, including the VFW applied for liquor licenses. The city protested the applications and they were rejected.

The Alaska Legislature could also change state law to allow certain patriotic clubs to operate as they had in the past.

As for now, the VFW has a no alcohol sign posted on the door and is in discussions with regulators and lawmakers.

“We do not plan on moving forward in any direction with the thought of alcohol until we have something in writing that we know applies to this post. I don’t want a generalization, I don’t want ‘a I think so,’ I want it to be solid so there’s no question on any party’s part,” said Calvetti.

Calvetti says the VFW operates a bingo hall and hosts many community events and alcohol is not the focus of the organization. As a non-profit, he says he wants to continue to provide money and support for the community. So far this fiscal year, they have given $150,000 for local causes.

Click here to view correspondence between the VFW and the ABC board and the regulations.