This Month in History – Voting for Liquor by the Drink, January 12, 1979

On January 12, 1979, New Hanover County voters cast their ballots in a referendum that decided to change the county’s liquor laws. North Carolina’s alcohol laws began changing in the late 1960s, after a long period where the sale of mixed drinks was illegal. North Carolina was the first state to pass prohibition by a direct vote by the people. The state as a whole went overwhelmingly dry, and the prohibition law went into effect on January 1, 1909. So for nearly 70 years, North Carolinians couldn’t legally buy a ready-made cocktail at a restaurant, hotel, or bar.

Things began to change in the 1960s. First, the state Supreme Court declared in 1966 that the seemingly extremely common practice of bringing a bottle of booze to events in a brown bag was illegal. In response, in the spring of 1967, the General Assembly passed a “brown bag” law that opened the door for legal drinking at restaurants. People who wanted to drink spirits with dinner in a restaurant could go to a place with a brown bag permit. There, the diner could buy a “setup” – ice and mixer in a glass – and then add their own liquor to the drink.

A decade later, the law changed again. After a failed statewide effort to allow the sale of mixed drinks, the General Assembly decided to allow each county or municipality to vote on “liquor by the drink” sales. First, in the fall of 1978, Charlotte said yes to mixed drinks. Other counties and towns followed suit, putting the measure on the ballot. Some voted for the option, other areas voted against. In New Hanover County, residents voted 1979 to allow the sale of liquor by the drink by a wide margin. While the forces of liquor law liberalization won out in New Hanover County, not every county and municipality voted to change their liquor laws. As of 2018, however, there was only one completely dry county in North Carolina: Graham County.

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Previous Columns

December: A Day’s News, December 12, 1936
November:
November 10, 1898
October: 
Halloween, October 31
September:
Getting a Car Fixed: September 3, 1929
August:
“Two Hundred Years of Light by the Light”: August 5, 1989
July: 
Tommies Parading in Wilmington: July 17, 1943
June:
Williston is Closed: June 26, 1968
May: May 13, 1919: Traveling Home from War
April: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated: April 4, 1968
March: Sending Victory Mail Home
February:  Human Relations Month
January 2018:
Galloway’s Sick Note
December:
A Ship is Launched
November:
Election Day and a Parade
October:
Developing the story
September:
A soldier/artist sketches a famous dancer
August:
Urban Renewal Takes Off
July:
Launching Concrete River Vessel No. 5
June:
Wilmington Meets Los Angeles
May:
Bellamy Sails to France
March:
World TB Day
February: David Walker is Honored with a Marker
January 2017:
Two Brothers Honored on One Memorial Stone
December:
Holiday Gifts
November:
A nurse comes home from war
October:
Wartime football takes the bases by storm
September:
Circus Day
August:
Motorboat Racing
July:
Celebrating Independence Day at the Beach
June:
Wilmington Turns 200, June 21, 1939
May:
Laura Grace Cox graduates from Tileston
April:
Saint Marks Turns 100, April 1969
March: Troops Return Home, March 29, 1919
February: Black History Month turns 40
January 2016: Fort Johnston and Fort Caswell are seized, January 8, 1861


Pro-Mixed drink poster, January 1979
2008.061.0029
Gift of Bob Andrise

Register for Mixed-Drink vote, December 1978
2008.061.0028
Gift of Bob Andrise
814 Market Street • Wilmington, NC 28401 • Phone 910-798-4370 • Fax 910-798-4382