Tax Service Follows Clients to the Watering Hole

Duffy's Irish Pub in Hoboken, N.J., is the most unlikely of places to get your taxes done. But it's possible because workers of "Tavern Tax" set up shop in neighborhood bars like Duffy's. Clients can either celebrate news of a refund or soak their sorrows in some suds.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

If the prospect of having to finish your taxes makes you want a stiff drink, then this story is for you.

In the New York area, a team of tax preparers has been setting up shop in bars. The service is aimed at young professionals who are more comfortable dealing with the G and T, than with the IRS.

We have this report from NPR's Robert Smith.

ROBERT SMITH reporting:

Duffy's Irish Pub in Hoboken, New Jersey, has live music on Thursdays, a dart tournament on Tuesdays, and on Wednesday night, a certified public accountant.

Mr. CARMINE SODORA (owner, Tavern Tax): My name is Carmine Sodora, owner of Tavern Tax.

SMITH: Sodora has set up his laptop and laser printer on a folding table next to the dartboard.

Mr. SODORA: Do you have a copy of last year's return by any chance?

Mr. KEVIN DUFFY (tax client): No.

Mr. SODORA: Okay. Did you file last year?

Mr. DUFFY: Yeah.

Mr. SODORA: Good answer.

Mr. DUFFY: (Laughs)

SMITH: His first client tonight is Kevin Duffy, a twenty-something with a pint of Smithwick's Ale in one hand and a W-2 form in the other.

Mr. DUFFY: I actually just saw the sign in the window and, obviously it's kind of last minute, here--so, Easter coming up and everything--so it's pretty much my last chance to get it done.

Mr. SODORA: This is a pretty low-stress way to get your taxes done.

Mr. DUFFY: Yeah. Definitely. One of the bonuses, I guess.

SMITH: While Duffy wanders off to watch a ballgame on the TV, Sodora's fingers start flying on the 10-pad. He doesn't fit your traditional image of a button-down CPA. Sodora's only 28 years old, and spends a fair amount of his free time in bars anyway, so he was thinking...

Mr. SODORA: You know, offer, you know, people like myself the opportunity to get their tax returns prepared...

CROWD: (Watching ballgame on TV) Whoa!

Mr. SODORA: ...Whoa...with less stress. And, you know, not really having to worry about it, you know. And putting them in an environment where they can multitask a little bit.

SMITH: And by multitask you mean drink?

Mr. SODORA: It could be drink. They could play pool, darts. Nobody's here getting drunk, to be honest. You know, they're just here having a beer, talking with their friends, you know, having their taxes done at the same time.

SMITH: Sodora says he won't drink while he works. In fact, as he hunches over his laptop, he seems oblivious to the rollicking bar scene around him. This is serious stuff, he says. Not just because money is involved, but because for many young people, this is their first experience with a CPA.

Mr. SODORA: You know, we're competing against, you know, $40.00 software packages that everybody and their mother can go out there and buy. And, you know, and it's trying to show people that there is value in having a CPA tax preparer relationship.

SMITH: If I'm drinking while you're doing my tax return, can I write off the beer?

Mr. SODORA: There's a chance. There's an outside chance that could happen.

SMITH: Well, if I drink a beer while drinking this story, is that an un-reimbursed business expense?

Mr. SODORA: Yeah, if you don't file an expense report for that beer, and that would be an un-reimbursed business expense--subjected to a two percent AGI floor(ph), and so, the first two percent off of your AGI is non-deductible.

SMITH: See? This guy is good. And cheap--his tax preparation fee starts at $80.00.

The Tavern Tax concept has attracted so much attention, that bar owners have been thinking about other services that could easily be offered during Happy Hour. Sodora's been personally approached with an idea to provide mortgage lender services over cocktails.

Mr. SODORA: After a couple of drinks you can easily imagine, I don't know, bar-based dentists or psychiatrists.

Ms. DANA MCDOUCHEY (bartender at Duffy's Irish Pub): Well I'm the psychiatrist. (Laughs) They should be paying me.

SMITH: Oh yeah, Dana McDouchey is the bartender at Duffy's.

Ms. MCDOUCHEY: A dentist, maybe not so much. Or maybe! Maybe everyone will be drunk enough that they won't be feeling any pain. They won't need the Novocain, they won't need the gas, you know?

SMITH: After about a half an hour of arithmetic and double checking, Sodora finishes Kevin Duffy's taxes, and the bottom line?

Mr. DUFFY: Excellent. I got a refund, so I'm very happy.

SMITH: May I ask you how much of a refund you got?

Mr. DUFFY: Well federal and state both was around two grand. So...

SMITH: Around two grand?

Mr. DUFFY: Yeah. Good stuff.

SMITH: That's a lot of beer.

Mr. DUFFY: It is, indeed.

SMITH: Dana, the bartender, quickly pulls out her calculator.

Ms. MCDOUCHEY: For $2,000 dollars you can get 444 pints of Guinness.

SMITH: More than enough to last until next year's tax season.

Robert Smith, NPR News.

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