Dry Barn

A few years ago, my family was invited to a wedding. Instead of going to a banquet hall for the reception, however, we went to a barn.

It was a cool day in May, so all the women in my family were freezing, and it only got worse as the night went on. Despite the chilly weather, there were still a ton of bugs. The floor wasn’t level, so the dinner table was tilty, resulting in spilled drinks. Finally, there was a very nice trailer that had restrooms, but the women’s only had two stalls, causing a longer line than at Packer games.

Apparently, I’m old and too practical, for everyone else found the barn charming and quaint. And they weren’t alone – ‘wedding barns’ are a hot trend in the industry.

However, a new law may make the venue far less popular for nuptials.

Wisconsin Act 73, passed last year, contains significant changes to the rules governing the consumption of alcohol at public places and private events. Previous law generally prohibited an owner, lessee, or person in charge of a public place from permitting the consumption of alcohol beverages on the property of the public place without an appropriate retail license or permit. The old law, however, did not define a “public place.”

Under the new rules, a “public place” includes a venue, location, open space, room, or establishment that is any of the following:

• Accessible and available to the public to rent for an event or social gathering;
• Held out for rent to the public for an event or social gathering; or
• Made available for rent to a member of the public for an event or social gathering.

The Act further states that an owner, lessee, or person in charge of a “public place” is prohibited from allowing the consumption of alcohol beverages on the property, unless the person has the appropriate retail license or permit, or a newly created no-sale event venue permit.

Starting on January 1, 2026, event venues must either get a retail liquor license to sell alcohol at their events or obtain a special “no sale event venue permit,” which allows a venue to let guests bring in outside alcohol (beer and wine) without having the retail license to sell it themselves. But, this is limited to six events a year and no more than once per month.

Because a wedding barn is defined as a “public place” under the Act, two wedding barns – Fairview Event Barn in Berlin and Monarch Valley Weddings and Events in Blair – are suing the State of Wisconsin.

The lawsuit was filed in Trempealeau County on May 7, 2024, by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), a conservative law firm out of Milwaukee. The suit alleges that the changes to the alcohol rules under Act 73 will have a harmful effect on the way special event venues like wedding barns do business, causing them to either completely change their business models or go out of business.

“Plaintiffs’ private event venues host significantly more than 6 events per year and 1 event per month, and limiting Plaintiffs’ ability to operate on their normal schedules will likely put them out of business, as their revenue will be reduced dramatically,” the complaint reads in part. “They will also struggle to recruit and retain staff to work for only six days per year.”

The legislation was strongly supported by members of the Tavern League and the beverage industry.

Wedding barns, however, have vowed to oppose the law until the cows come home.

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Reg P. Wydeven

Elder Law and Estate Planning Attorney at McCarty Law LLP
Hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps from a young age, Reg’s practice primarily consists of advising individuals on estate planning, estate settlement and elder law matters. As Reg represents clients in matters like guardianship proceedings and long-term care admissions, he feels grateful to be able to offer families thorough legal help in their time of need.

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