Describing “Premises” for Wisconsin Alcohol Licenses

Municipal Law Alert, February 2012

Wisconsin law requires that the applicant for a liquor license “shall particularly describe the premises for which issued.” The standard application form, AT-106, is issued by the Department of Revenue and generally available from local municipalities. This form asks for the address of the premises, but also asks for much more detail describing the “building or buildings” and even further asks the applicant to describe “all rooms” used for sales, service or storage.

While “particularly describe” is not defined in the statutes, a recent appeals court case, Wisconsin Dolls, LLC v. The Town of Dell Prairie, held that a description of “all 8 acres of resort” did not adequately describe the premises. The facts of this case are interesting, and the outcome adds a twist that I suspect neither party quite expected, although the holding favored the Town’s position. As the Court said, “We frame the issues differently than do the parties.”

Wisconsin Dolls is a tavern near Wisconsin Dells that features “adult” entertainment. It had been issued a liquor license for the premises described as “all 8 acres” for several years, at least from 2005 through 2008. When it applied for its 2009 license, Wisconsin Dolls again described the premises as “all 8 acres.” However, this time the town clerk, with the backing of the town board, told Wisconsin Dolls, LLC, that this did not “particularly describe the premises.” The Town asked Wisconsin Dolls to amend its license application, and when it did not do so, the board voted to issue an amended license describing the premises as “Main Bar/Entertainment Building.” Wisconsin Dolls then sought court intervention to order the Town to issue the license covering the entire 8 acres.

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