What exactly is the difference between a bar/tavern and a music venue to allow admission to an individual under 21?

In the case of music venues, the primary focus of the business is the performance of cultural arts, music, and theatre to an audience.  This differentiates the primary function, focus, and purpose from bars or taverns whose primary purpose is the sale and consumption of alcohol.  For clarity, the primary purpose of a business is the core function or activity which establishes the clientele, fundamentally, the reason for which the business exists.

However, just because the primary purpose of a business is one particular activity, does not mean the primary source of revenue is from that same activity.  The activity which draws an individual to a business is not always the same activity in which they will spend the majority of their money as participants.  Take, for example, a trip to the Iowa State Fair.  What is the primary purpose of the fair?  Technically, it’s an agricultural exposition.  What brought you to the fair?  The agricultural displays?  The live music?  The rides?  Now, look back on your visit and what did you spend the majority of your money on throughout that day?  It was likely concessions.  Now, the fair is obviously a very different example than a local, small business, since the fair is gaining revenue from multiple sources and shifts purchases through multiple vendors, so how about an art museum?  The artwork attracts patrons, but revenue (with the exception of donations) is mostly earned in the gift shop.  These analogies of primary purpose and revenue source are a good illustration to keep in mind for separating primary purpose and primary source of revenue.

Now, it’s expensive to run music venues, it’s not a simple, easy, or cheap to stay operational. Ticket sale prices are often normalized based on national or regional rates, or there is simply no cover for admission whatsoever, so admission prices are, for lack of a better term, fixed.  Due to these revenue restrictions, the most cost-effective method for raising the necessary revenue to keep the business afloat is alcohol sales, particularly in this setting in which a 400% mark-up on the base cost of a drink is considered average. This makes the primary revenue source alcohol sales, while the primary purpose of the establishment is musical entertainment.

Lots of businesses take advantage of the account-boosting power of alcohol sales and in-house bars.  The primary purpose of a bowling alley is to go bowling, yet right next to the lanes there’s a fully stocked bar.  Reception halls are rented out for the purpose of holding special events, yet they most often offer a fully stocked bar as well.  Nearly every cultural festival, block party, art show, or civic minded social gathering in the city offers a space with alcohol readily available for the cost of a few dollars and a short walk.  These entities exist with alcohol, with bars and alcohol sales present, without being defined by that aspect of the business. As such, we can make the logical assertion that a music venue may have a bar without being a bar, as it does not reflect the primary purpose of the business as a whole.  None of these points on primary purpose take away from the individual responsibilities of owners, managers, and security at these establishments to ensure the safety of all individuals by ensuring they are not participating in any illegal activities, age-based or otherwise.  Nor does it deter the necessary personal responsibility of all participating individuals.

In conclusion, the primary purpose of the clientele differentiates bars or taverns (alcohol consumption) from music venues (viewing live music).  Given the potential economic and cultural benefits, it is irrational that the City of Des Moines would continue to maintain a policy barring individuals under the age of 21 from music venues after 9pm. This is not an argument to allow minors into bars, in fact the proposal at hand seeks nothing of the sort, rather it is recognizing the inherent benefits to allowing all ages into music venues while maintaining personal safety and accountability on behalf of all parties involved.  As such, I recommended the creation of a local, legal definition of a “music venue” which is dependent on primary purpose and does not consider revenue streams or gross receipts.

*NOTE: Enacted, this would not force all business owners to be open to individuals under 21 or 18.Rather, it offers more personal discretion and freedom in business by allowing the choice of whether or not individuals under 21 or 18 are admitted by the owner.