Thursday, January 25, 2007

Masonic lodge opens members-only bar in former church

A story from England about a Masonic lodge moving into a former church and setting up a members-only bar got me to wondering about Masonic rules about alcohol.

In the south (at least in Georgia), alcohol use among Freemasons seems to be openly frowned upon, but I've found nothing that says it's banned. In at least one other southern state, I've heard of a brother being expelled for owning a liquor store.

Yet in other parts of America, alcohol seems to be an integral part of Masonic festivities. And in England, of course, it's long been a tradition to imbibe at Festive Boards held after stated communications.

Masonic lodges were held in taverns in England during the 18th and 19th centuries, and for all I know, may still be today.

The duties of the Junior Warden is to see that brothers don't "convert the hours of refreshment into excess," which makes no sense unless it's expected that during refreshment, brothers will be consuming alcohol. Surely it doesn't mean the JW should police the over-consumption of pound cake and hot dogs.

A quick perusal of the Masonic Code of Georgia shows that intoxication, but not the consumption of alcohol, is considered a Masonic offense. Selling an illegal alcoholic beverage (or drug) is forbidden, as is selling alcohol to someone under the age of 21. [Sections 77-115, 77-116, and 77-116.1, sandwiched in between a rule about debts to the lodge or each other and a rule forbidding "exemplification of the Hiramic Legend" to a non-Mason.]

I've heard it said by some Georgia lodge members that it is against Masonic law to bring into or consume on lodge premises alcoholic beverages, but I've never seen it in print, other than a sign posted at my lodge, and in the contract used when the lodge hall is rented by outsiders. I assume this is a rule adopted by my lodge, or is in their bylaws, though maybe it's a statewide edict of which I'm not aware. I have seen brothers enjoying beer at other local lodges during fundraising events.

I'd like to hear from our readers who are Masons: Can you tell us about how the consumption of alcoholic beverages at Masonic events is viewed in your jurisdiction, and if you know, how it came to be so, and why? Is it a part of the after-meeting Festive Board? Do you have a bar in your lodge? Do you drink alcohol at events? Or is it banned?

In your comments, please be sure to include your U.S. state or country of residence. Thanks!

Image: A Scottish Lodge in Thailand toasts a new Master at his installation.

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  1. An observant reader sent me a link to a 2001 story from the Grand Lodge of North Carolina's newsletter giving more information on the Arkansas brother who was expelled from Masonry for owning a liquor store. You can read the story below, or on page 8 of "The North Carolina Mason," a PDF file.

    Arkansas — Back in July 2000 the Imperial Shrine, at its annual meeting, made two huge splashes in the Masonic world. First, and most obviously, they revoked a rule requiring Shriners to be a member of the Scottish or York Rite. The second, but perhaps most disturbing, was their retention as a Shriner of a man who had been expelled from Masonry in Arkansas. The later action has now been withdrawn, with the Shrine asking Arkansas’s forgiveness.

    An Arkansas Mason was convicted in a
    Masonic trial of violating Arkansas Masonic law — selling liquor — and expelled.

    At its national meeting, the Shrine’s appeals committee and delegates voted that since the man had not violated any Shrine rules that his membership in Shrine should continue whether he was a Mason or not. It was no longer necessary for a man to be a Mason to be a Shriner in the state.

    Within hours Arkansas Grand Master Dickey J. Fortner issued an order declaring that the Shrine was no longer a Masonic organization in his jurisdiction. Grand masters of several states, including North Carolina’s Charles Cathey, sent letters to Imperial Potentate
    Robert. N. Turnipseed supporting Fortner’s actions and condemning the Shrine action.

    January 3, 2001, Turnipseed and the potentates of the two Shrine temples in Arkansas wrote Fortner asking restoration of the Shrine to its former position, promising “that the officers of the Shrine will at all
    times abide by the landmarks, constitution, laws, and regulations” of the grand lodge and that they would “hold the obligations of a Master Mason to be inviolate at all times and under all circumstances.”

    They further affirmed that they would
    “allow no person to visit a tiled meeting, or be admitted into or retain membership” in the Shrine there “who is not a Master Mason
    in good standing.”

    The tale is a near replay of a situation between the Shrine and the Grand Lodge of South Carolina in the mid-1990s. The charges, retention, reaction, and retraction are also very similar. —, Southeast Masonic Conference, et al.

    — W.S.

  2. I love seems subversively appropriate...

  3. Like the blogger, I am in the 9th District of Georgia. I am not aware of anything in our Masonic Codebook that prohibits drinking. It appears to be a lodge-by-lodge decision. If your lodge is dominated by Southern Baptists, there ain't gonna be no drinkin' on the grounds. I've always wondered why they didn't prohibit dancing in their outside contracts, too. As we know, no good Baptist would be caught dead walkin' like the devil.

  4. In Conn, lodges set their own restrictions. Some do not allow alcohol in the building - and it's funny to see some of the younger members hanging out on the back steps to have a beer, much in the way that smokers do in public buildings.

    Often, the restrictions on alcohol have to do with the insurance rates; many lodges rent out the dining hall to other groups, and lawsuit happy attorneys could easily reach back to a lodge for a settlement if, say, someone drove home drunk from a stag party held at the hall.

    Yet, there are a few lodges that incorporated long ago that dont' allow alcohol. Why? I'm not sure, but I suspect that it's a religious kind of thing. My wife's church does not allow alcohol on the premises - something that I found out a few years ago when I was cooking 20 gallons of tomato sauce for a benefit dinner. I usually add red wine to my sauce for flavoring, and was told by several people to hide the evidence ASAP. I asked a minister about this, and he explained that the church had reincorporated years ago, and the members put that stipulation in the by-laws because they feared that drinking would lead to immorality.

    I can easily imagine a small New England lodge doing the same thing.

    Some years ago - before my time - a certain brother was having some problems with alcohol and decided to kick the habit. In deference, and to help him avoid temptation, the rest of the brothers abstained from drinking in the main hall, and confined themselves to having a wee dram in the back of the kitchen. They continued this until he was well past the temptation, and remains a tee-totaler to this day.

    We do not have a bar in Friendship - in fact, I can't think of any lodges in my area that do. We have a small, locked cabinet in the kitchen with a few bottles of scotch, vodka, whiskey, etc. We all toss in a few bucks after each meeting to help the JW keep the supply replenished. We rarely drink before meetings, although we may have some semi-public dinners at which we'll serve wine or beer. And some lodges forbid any drinking before a meeting.

    After meetings, there always seem to be a dozen or so of us hanging around and having a couple of drinks as we help to clean up. For the record, in the five-plus years that I've been a member, I've rarely seen anyone over-indulge at my lodge. I have seen some excesses elsewhere, but I've also noticed some designated drivers in other lodges, too.

    Tom Accuosti
    The Tao of Masonry

  5. In Alabama:

    "1.7. MEMBER OF GRAND LODGE OR VISITOR THERETO DRUNK—Any member of the Grand Lodge, or visitor thereto who, during any Grand Communication, appears in the Grand Lodge building where it is in Communication in a state of intoxication, shall be brought before that Communication, shall be reprimanded in open Grand Lodge by the Grand Master and shall be
    arraigned and tried by the member’s lodge after notice has been received by that lodge from the Grand Secretary whose duty it shall be to notify the member’s lodge of the occurrence.

    (21) Aiding in illicit distilling of intoxicating liquors or beverages;
    (22) To engage in the business of illegally retailing spirituous,
    vinous or malt liquors;

    25.7. MASON DRUNK—Any Mason who visits another
    Lodge or attends his own, or joins in a Masonic procession or funeral
    while intoxicated, is guilty of unmasonic conduct and should his
    own Lodge, upon being informed of such conduct, fail or refuse to
    prefer charges against him, the said derelict Lodge should be reported
    to the Grand Master or the Grand Lodge for discipline."

  6. we in ohio are still too irresposable to be allowed to consume alcohol on the premises, except ofcourse at the Scottish Rite Building, they and a couple of others temples apparently get special priveledge or dispensation for alcohol related functions, but the rest of us peons, do not get that luxury to generate revenue for existence.
    Maybe if we had a 33rd or a KYCH in our temple, we could gain the favor of the powers to be that allow some masons to do things but others not?


  7. In Iowa, we aren't allowed to have alcohol on the premises of a Lodge-owned building. If the building is owned by a temple board, then alcohol is allowed on the premesis. It is not allowed in the lodge room, or to be consumed right before or after a meeting. Nor is it allowed to be sold on the premises.
    This means that, if the building is owned by a temple board, then it can rent out any banquet areas for wedding receptions and other such events, and they can bring in their own alcohol. They can't sell it.
    As to drinking in general, I know of a few lodges here in IA that will go out to a local bar after degree work and other such meetings. I know I enjoy going to the Middle Chamber* with the rest of my brothers after meetings.


    *the Middle Chamber is a codeword that we have for a bar across the street from the Ldoge

  8. Nor is it allowed to be sold on the premises.

    Good point, Tom. I'd forgotten to add that this is true in Conn, too, as a condition of being chartered. IOW, it's part of GL rules. This puts us at a considerable disadvantage for attracting members because the Elks Lodge is on the next block, and they sell beer and sandwiches.

    Please note that this was supposed to be humurous.

    In Conn, all lodge buildings are owned by "Temple Corps", which themselves have to submit by-laws to both the GL and the State as a condition of being a 501-C-x non-profit organization. Since our lodge allows alcohol on the premises, we can also opt to buy increased insurance coverage to rent to parties at which there will be drinking. I think - but don't know for sure - that some lodges do this. I know that some rent out the hall to non-Masonic parties at which some drinking has gone on, but it may have been against the rental agreement.

    Tom Accuosti
    The Tao of Masonry

  9. And now the California contingent -

    We certainly have interesting policy when it comes to alcoholic beverages. IMHO I think most of these rules are some attempt to remind folks that doing things to excess is what we want to avoid, not actually drinking. With that in mind, here's the breakdown in California:

    - Alcohol is allowed on premisis and may be consumed, except in the Lodge Hall. It cannot be stored overnight.

    - Lodge funds may not be used in the purchase or use of alcohol. Therefore, any alcohol that is consumed at an event must be either free/donated or sold by an independant party.

    - All alcohol related sales must conform to the rules of the state of California (liquor licenses, etc).

    So, them's the rules. How do we have things at my Lodge? We do rent out the hall and basically enforce the rules above. Wedding parties have to bring in their booze in the morning and make sure it's gone by the evening. At the latest GL Annual Communication there was legislation introduced to allow for overnight storage in a locked area - it failed.

    At our Blue Lodge Stated Meetings, it is rare to see any alcohol consumed. We have had it on two nights last year where we did a wine tasting sponsored by a local restarant, and it was very well received and everyone was very well behaved. The year before that we started bringing in beer and wine (we being the younger members) on our own, which I very much enjoyed with our meal, but it never really caught on and petered out.

    Now, when the Shrine Club has their monthly Saturday breakfast meeting at the lodge, the Bloody Mary's and Gin Fizz's flow liberally, and they sure are tasty (I'm not a Shriner, but I am the Secretary for the Hall Association and sometimes I'm at the Lodge and join in the fun). Again, no one over does it.

    At my SR meeting, I bring my own bottle of wine from the celler, because Mrs. D'Avis alwasy makes a killer meal that deserves a killer wine. As a matter of fact, our Temple started stocking good wine glasses because of me, and having better wines available (all drinks are free, with donations always appreciated for the Language Center).

    So, basically alcohol is allowed for the Blue Lodge but the "corporate culture" is such that we just don't make it a part of those events very often, while it is baked into the corporate culture of the SR and Shrine. Fortunately I've never seen anyone at any of the events I've attended ever abuse it, keeping their Obligation intact.

    Fraternally I remain -

    Eric Wells, PM

  10. Bristol UK - It surprises me to read of any kind of restriction on alcohol at Masonic Lodge buildings since every masonic hall in the UK uses the revenue generated from the bar to support their income and keep subscriptions low.

    Brethren abroad can see our bar at


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