How to Open a Bar in Washington

Bartender Mixing Drinks
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There is a long and colorful history of bars that have opened in Washington State. One of the oldest bars in Washington is The Brick. In 1889, John Buffo and Peter Giovanni built a tavern at 1 Pennsylvania St. in Roslyn, Wash. After a fire, the bar was re-built in 1898 out of 45,000 bricks and took the name "The Brick." The Brick gained national fame when shots of the exterior of the building were used for the fictitious tavern of the same name in the popular television show "Northern Exposure." If you wish to open a bar in Washington State, you need to abide by the state's rules and regulations.

Select a name for your business. Prior to making applications for all the licenses and permits you will need to open your business, you will have to have a business name. Choose a simple, easy-to-remember name that identifies your venue to the public. Determine if the name is available by visiting

Register your trade name. If your business is a corporation, it must be registered with the Washington State Corporation Commission.

Choose a location. Consider the amount of both foot and auto traffic at the closest street intersection. Does the location have adequate parking? Are there city or county ordinances in place that would prevent or hinder the type of events or entertainment you wish to offer? Will the site pass a fire code and health inspection? Contact local city and county authorities to request an inspection prior to committing to a lease or purchase of the location.

Apply for and secure a business license. Contact the Washington State Department of Licensing and fill out an application for a Master Business License. This is a mandatory license for all firms or individuals conducting business in Washington state. Application can be made at:

Master License Service Department of Licensing PO Box 9034 Olympia, WA 98507-90341

You can apply online at:

Apply for a state tax registration number and identification.

Study the rules and regulations for a Washington State Liquor License. (Food service is required at all establishments that sell beer, wine or spirits for consumption on the premises. These rules can be rather cumbersome and will entail additional employees and food preparation and storage equipment. Make sure your space and budget can accommodate these requirements.) Retail Liquor Licenses are required for businesses or nonprofit organizations that retail or serve beer, wine, or spirits. Apply for a Washington State Liquor License at:

Licensing and Regulation PO Box 43098 Olympia WA 98504-3098 Fax: (360) 753-2710

Your liquor license application is perhaps the most important license you will need. You cannot open a bar, pub, cocktail lounge or cafe that serves alcohol without it. Fill out carefully and completely. This process can take several weeks to complete. It will expedite the process if information is up-to-date and accurate. Keep a copy for your records and submit all forms by certified mail.

Complete a U.S. Department of Treasury Alcohol Dealer Registration. Mail it to the address on the form.


  • Research your market and carefully plan your investment. The public is fickle and opening a bar is a risky business venture. Adequate funding is needed to support the ongoing costs of running the bar until business is firmly established. Many new venues fail unless they have a year of expenses set aside as a financial reserve fund.

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