Pop a cork with a picnic, get a ticket

picnic wine
Should you be able to drink wine in a park with a picnic?

This question arose during the Q&A after my talk at the Beard House last week. Funny, wine politics extends to parks!

It turned out that the woman who posed the question had, in fact, just sipped wine at a picnic in Prospect Park in Brooklyn–and all in her party were ticketed! At $25 a head, that ended up being a $150 wine experience that she and her friends would no doubt could have lived without. Or the most expensive rosé they had ever tasted.

For those of you who might wonder why they were issued a citation, city law bans open containers of alcohol in parks or beaches. Mayor Bloomberg did get in trouble in 2003 when some people were ticketed for drinking beer on a beach while he was photographed days later listening to the Philharmonic with people having wine near him.

Are these blue laws outdated and we should be able to uncork rose while in the park? Have your say in the latest poll!

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19 Responses to “Pop a cork with a picnic, get a ticket”

  1. One of the best things about London in the summertime is the option of being able to go the park and enjoy the sun, whenever it comes out, with a nice bottle of plonk. Whether it’s an afternoon in the park, evening concert, open air theater, opera or festival, most people seem to enjoy it responsibly. I know the British do have their problems with youthful binge drinking but banning public drinking is not the answer.

  2. I’ve been going to Prospect Park with wine all summer long (mostly at night, for the concerts…including tonight), and if you get ticketed, it’s your own fault. Keep your bottle in a bag, drink out of plastic cups (though not the URCs as favored by the dudes featured on hotchickswithdouchebags.com), and don’t be obvious about it. If you leave the bottle lying out on the picnic blanket, you kind of deserve to get caught, sad to say. The law is dumb, but it’s still the law.

  3. Wine is an alcohol beverage, but do we need wine to feel like adults? Can all people be trusted to behave like adults when they have been drinking?

    I hate to be a buzz kill, but alcohol related costs to public safety, public health and the common good (be it financial – lost resources on booking people for “drunk in public” – or from people suffering injuries and death) far out weight any justifications for the convenience of having wine with a picnic at the park.

    In NYC you can take a bottle of wine to central park, finish it with your spouse/date/companion and walk to the subway and get home – probably without any problems along the way.

    In my town, I can walk to the neighborhood park and back, and so long as I can navigate the sidewalks and crosswalks, all ends well (assuming the fuzz doesn’t see me staggering).

    But what about when I drive to the Hollywood Bowl where I can consume wine and even buy it at the “refreshments” store? I go fairly often and have seen many a lawyer, doctor and college professor who’s had too much. Some were just too buzzed to drive, and some were pretty toasted. Is the time spent waiting in line for and then sitting in the shuttle bus which takes me back to my car in a parking lot a couple miles away enough to make sure I don’t kill myself or anyone else while driving home on the 101 or I-5?

    What if I don’t kill anyone but do get pulled over on my way home and end up with a BAC *just* over the limit and get arrested, loose $10K in the legal costs and increased car insurance premiums?

    As a society we need to accept this minor (perceived) impingement on our liberties for the benefit of the common good.

  4. Shouldn’t the issue be your conduct versus consumption? Disorderly conduct is unacceptable but consuming wine outdoors shouldn’t be. Why is the natural assumption that if you consume wine in public, you’ll behave badly? How can something be legal inside but not out? Why can we drink wine in outdoor cafes? Will we behave better if we’re sitting at a table and overpaying for wine?

  5. I think that the issue is one of perception. Let’s face it when you attend concerts/plays in the park in the afternoon or evening, especially in a lawn situation, the assumption is that people are going to picnic and many/most will bring food and wine. The events are also in part or wholly sponsored by the local government park district. Personally, and others will disagree, but I think this particular set of circumstances is different than just wonton consumption in public in the streets which I would not be in favor of. Of course hiding the wine is always the best so that you are not flaunting it in the face of the law

  6. In a perfect world the law would be on conduct v.s. consumption, but unfortunately it isn’t that easy.

    Restricting people from quietly drinking wine on a blanket is the cost of also stopping people from showing up with a few cases of beer, getting obnoxious and bothering everyone else in the park.

  7. I had a whole spiel to launch into. But really this is just some ridiculous puritanical nonsense that doesn’t deserve the effort. And the idea that if you get caught you deserve to have done so is completely asinine. Change the law, or at least make reasonable exceptions such as times or days when alcohol is allowed. Where I am from people do take beer and wine to the park, whole giant families of people, picnicking in nice weather, and maybe having some drinks, and society manages to keep from crashing to its knees. If littering, public urination, fighting, vagrancy, or noise are concerns, just punish those violations more harshly, but be careful, there are lines in there that are also very easily crossed. For once could America stop being the leading light of puritanical oppression this side of Ryad?

  8. Michael,

    It is not puritanism, but the intent of not wasting money and other public resources on arresting, prosecuting and punishing those who commit those ancillary transgressions of public drunkenness, urination, vandalism, etc that is at the root of these laws.

  9. That is a lovely sentiment, but if saving the money is the goal, we can easily extend this line of logic to criminalize a great many other activities. How about this, nightly curfew for everyone without a pass. Savings will be immense. Furthermore, the argument doesn’t hold water because the money is still being spent, the officers are still there. I would also like to repeat that I have lived in multiple cities that allow drinking in parks and there does not seem to be a real need for extra police presence, no extra money. Besides, people out and spending is good for the economy. Sell beer at the park at ballgame prices, cut the profits for the city, do it beergarten style. Watch the cash add up fast.

    AND, if you think that American blue law is not rooted in puritanical values, then read up, and WAKE UP. I currently live near Kansas, where bars open to the public were illegal until 1987. Seriously.

  10. Michael, I appreciate your strength of conviction and passion. But your zeal is coming off a bit too aggressive.

    That said, I also have lived in and visited a number of states and I do understand the historical roots of blue laws.

    Those roots not withstanding, alcohol consumption is much more closely associated with those ancillary transgressions (above) than just being out on the sidewalk past a certain time. I think it is rash and extreme to put those two on par with each other.

    Alcohol consumption in public places is prohibited (not criminalized) to prevent other behaviors. I suspect that you would agree that vandalism, a stranger urinating on your front door, disruptive and loud behavior after a certain time of night and driving under the influence are rightly criminalized.

    I am by no means suggesting that allowing consumption of alcoholic beverage in public parks would lead to looting and anarchism, but society demands limits, parameters and boundaries to prevent undesirable, offensive, risky or criminal behavior – whatever its frequency or incidence.

  11. Arthur,

    In response to your query, I agree, to some degree, about most of those things. I would probably guess that some of these policies can be a bit too draconian, but as for the rest I would point out that some, such as urination on an individual, are crimes, while others, such as noise violations, are not, at least in most places, criminal, but are rather civil code violations, punishable by fines rather than prison sentences. Either way, I agree for the most part with these methods of controlling the public peace and welfare, punishing the acts desired to be prevented. That is far more desirable than punishing an activity that, while often related to these behaviors, usually results in none of them. Because I feel that it must honestly be admitted that far more often than not drinking does not lead to any of those behaviors. And that is how I draw an analogy between full curfew and laws against open containers. I first remind again that many places don’t have such laws and don’t seem to have any problem with their parks. That includes cities, suburbs, and small towns as I have lived in all at some time or another. But the comparison is that it is deprives all law-abiding citizens of a right that a relative few would abuse. And it really isn’t that hard to punish the few that do so.
    Now, if the harm here were more grave I could see such prohibitions. For instance, I am all for gun control. I’m no outright libertarian. But I believe a balance can be found. Where something is less likely than not to lead to a crime or serious civil violation, and if it does, said violation is unlikely to truly be very severe, leave it legal. Where, as in the case of gun ownership, something is unlikely to lead to crime, BUT said crime is certain to be catastrophic, then you criminalize or highly regulate the activity.
    If you are thinking that drunk driving may be the fly in the ointment of that argument, I’ve considered it, but it is not really relevant, because people are no more likely to drive to a park to drink than to anywhere else that they might drink, and in fact, in some areas, it may be far more convenient to walk to a park and have wine than to go to a bar.
    Mainly though, I just think how if I wanted to go the park across the street right now and have wine I could. And I am glad that I could. And I’ll just bet that right now some couple is there having dinner, with beer or wine, and that they probably won’t commit any crimes on the way home. And if they do, if anyone does, then that is a risk I am willing to take in the name of a bit more personal freedom.

    On another note, my sister lives by prospect park, its not a bad area from what I remember, and I think that they could probably get away with allowing wine to go unpunished.

  12. Michael,

    Well reasoned points.

    Agreed on the distinction of criminal offenses vs civil code violations.
    I guess it comes down to deciding (as a society) where the legal obstacles or regulatory devices to said offensive behaviors should be placed.

    I don’t dispute that drinking wine with a picnic in the park won’t lead to a wave of these offenses, but I think it’s reasonable to expect that allowing greater freedoms of public consumption of alcohol would increase the incidence to some degree. For the most part, these offenses would be nuisances more than public threats or dangers.

    An across-the-board increase (of whatever degree) of this incidence, would carry a proportionate amount of offenses/transgressions going undetected and unpunished, but they would still be nuisances to the general group. The few that would abuse the privilege would be an increased nuisance or disruption to those that do not.

    The decision (as you indicate) a society must make is choosing between curtailing some personal conveniences (like wine with a picnic in the park), or tolerating an increased incidence of these nuisances.

  13. This one is difficult to balance. Obviously I’d love to be able to enjoy a nice glass of wine in the park; I recently picked up these perfect wine glass holders for just such an occasion (http://truefabrications.com/shopexd.asp?id=679)

    Unfortunately I’ve been weary of using them in a public place because of the open-liquor laws; I will say, however that they are great for winery-hosted concerts 😉

    As much as I’d like to say wine should be an exception to the open-liquor laws because us wine connoisseurs are just oh-so-classy (God I sound smug) things are the way they are until we make the effort to do something about it.

  14. A good discussion! A few items:

    “Wine can be sold anywhere at the New York State Fair. Before, wine sales were restricted to certain areas of the fair, while beer could be sold and carried anywhere.” Wahoo!

    The NYT followed us with a trend piece about…drinking in parks!

    And as to the root of our laws, they are most likely a legacy from the Temperance movement. If they were really about the economics of misdemeanors, then other countries would have open container laws too, which as comment #1 provides evidence for, they don’t.

  15. […] KILLING me here! A great sandwich to mix things up on a weeknight or perfect for a Saturday picnic (just be sure wine is allowed in the park). You couldn’t go wrong with a bottle of Champagne or a nice Cava- something crisp to clean […]

  16. […] recently read a post on Blame it on Rioja (reacting in turn to a post on Dr Vino) about New York City and the (il)legal and practical applications of drinking a bottle of […]

  17. […] guess Dr. Vino and I are not the only ones with outdoor summer drinking on the brain. I woke up this morning to […]

  18. […] a wine shop nearby to find a bottle to accompany your meal; just be discreet. As Dr. Vino mentions in his latest post, it’s not technically legal to crack wine at public parks, but the consensus is that as long […]

  19. Twitter Comment

    @ericasimov good thing you didn’t get a ticket! On the other hand, then it could have become your cause celebre! [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher


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