“Is it allowable for me to eat in an establishment where alchohol is served?”
The origin [related to this act] is that a Muslim is not allowed to sit at a table where alcohol is served as found in a sound hadith related by Imam Ahmed and Imam al-Tirmithi. However, this type of prohibition is from the prohibitions related to means about which Ibn al-Qayyim said, “Indeed, the prohibitions related to means are not the same as the prohibitions related to objectives*.The prohibitions related to means are made permissible in the face of needs and the prohibitions related to objectives are only permissible in the presence of necessities.” Thus, this [act of sitting at a table were alcohol is served] is from the prohibitions related to means.
Some of the scholars stated that the prohibitions related to means are from the makhrohat [disliked acts]. Therefore, if one needs to sit in such a restaurant, he should not sit at a table where alcohol is served, and if he does, he should not do so in the presence of his small children who could be affected by it. If one needs to take food from such a restaurant, and he cannot find any other place to take his food, then this issue is one that rests upon hardship, difficulty and a sincere need. Thus, in the presence of the prohibition [the hadith alluded to above] this order could be understood to be disliked or [an absolute] prohibition. However, it is from the prohibitions related to needs, means and necessities whose rulings are lifted [made permissible] in the face of sincere needs as Ibn al-Qayyim mentioned.
Dr. Abdullah bin Bayyah
*the difference between muharamat al-wasail [prohibitions related to means] and muharamt al-maqasid [prohibitions related to aims/objectives] is that the former, although forbidden, are considered lesser in weight than the latter as the former are related to causes, where as the latter are related to an actual forbidden act. Thus, sitting at the table, although not the same as drinking, could lead to it whereas drinking in itself is absolutely forbidden.
The difference between Hajat [needs] and Daruriyyat [necessities] was discussed in great detail by al-Shatibi D. 691 A.H in his monumental work al-Muwafaqat. He states that Daruriyyat are things whose absence would cause life to cease, and hajjat are things that one needs to function comfortably but in their absence one would experience some hardship. For a more detailed discussion click here.