- Taking Strong Drink
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William Faulkner must have smiled down from heaven back in 2010 when his birthplace, New Albany, Mississippi, went wet—or at least damp—by making the sale of beer and “light wine” legal. The New York Times broke the news and chuckled at the irony of a long-dry town whose favorite son was a well-known drinker. The citizens had quite a battle over the issue, and the losers were not good sports. They immediately got their aldermen—most of them prohibitionists, if not teetotalers—to declare that beer would not be sold cold, by the single bottle, or on Sunday. And so it seems that folks in New Albany are going to be stuck with six-packs, cases, or maybe even kegs of warm beer, six days a week.
As bizarre as the tiff might sound to New Yorkers, it’s not so strange to old southerners like me. My own Palmetto State has had its share of peculiar booze laws. We have been committed to selling and drinking alcohol since we got statehood, but single servings of whiskey were forbidden for the first half of my life—the length of which I’ll keep to myself. The stronger stuff was only available by the bottle and only in designated stores, whose hours were confined to daylight. I suppose this law kept storekeepers attuned to the sun’s gradual shift, as they opened and closed a minute later each day, or the other way around depending on the time of year. That schedule has eased, but we still can’t sell the hard stuff on Sunday without a special license that can cost as much as five hundred dollars, nor can we sell it before 10 a.m. the rest of the week. It’s an easier lot for wine and beer shops, who can get started at 9 a.m. any day, and grocery stores, who can sell these two any time they please.
South Carolina restaurants struggled back in the days before “whiskey by the drink” was allowed. Hard liquor could turn more profits than the South’s traditional “meat-and-three” diners, named such for the entrée and vegetable sides they offer. So restaurant workers lobbied hard and got the state to approve its notorious “brown bag” law of 1962, which meant that we could haul all the booze and wine we wanted into any restaurant that had a proper license. We paid a corkage fee and had at it. And a party of eight or nine might bring in several bottles of booze and a few liters of wine for dinner parties. I’ll spare readers the sloppy details, but I will say that table manners degenerated, the streets became unsafe, and the taxi business flourished. To exploit the situation, department stores actually started selling fancy bags and carriers for booze. But those were deemed unnecessary in 1973, when we voted in favor of a “mini-bottle” law, which meant that we could actually buy a drink that was delivered in a 1.7-ounce airline bottle. The state found that convenient for purposes of taxation. Some devout Baptists complained that there was too much booze in a mini bottle for one drink; the rest of us complained that there wasn’t enough. So we rejoiced in 2006 when the state threw in the bar towel and came up with the “free pour” law, which allowed bartenders to slosh it around as they saw fit until 2:00 a.m. every day, even on Sunday, when [End Page 70] drinking was supposed...