Skip to comments.Can't Get a Drink in Texas? Try the Next County. (Or Next Door.)
Posted on 10/01/2003 11:23:30 AM PDT by Recourse
October 1, 2003 Can't Get a Drink in Texas? Try the Next County. (Or Next Door.)
By RALPH BLUMENTHAL
Matt Rourke for The New York Times Jonathan Sanders, a bartender in Plano, Tex., checking a driver's license in a machine so a customer can become a club member and buy alcohol.
PLANO, Tex., Sept. 28 You can buy a drink in Plano, but it's not that easy.
There are no bars or liquor stores allowed in this booming city of 240,000, Texas's ninth largest, 30 miles north of Dallas, which is also dry-ish. Supermarkets and groceries in 40 percent of Plano's opulent 72 square miles may not sell beer or wine. The rest can. You just have to know which is which.
Plano's 126 restaurants do sell drinks, if you hand over identification and sign a form to "join" the establishment's "private club," a practice common in Texas' nominally dry areas.
Texas is a patchwork of dizzying gradations of wetness, a carryover from Prohibition and arcane laws devised to protect varying interests. But people in Plano and a growing number of other localities are mobilizing to do something about it.
A new state law easing rules for local referendums on alcohol sales has allowed citizens here and elsewhere to organize intricate petition drives to liberalize liquor laws community by community.
The Texas Restaurant Association, a lobby based in Austin, is trying to do away with the private-club restrictions so Texans can order a predinner cocktail without going through the motions of joining a club every time they order at a restaurant.
Some people walk out rather than turn over their names and driver's license numbers, said Brad C. Shanklin, president of the Plano Chamber of Commerce. He said his organization was leading the petition drive "to remove the undue burden on restaurant owners."
The referendum, which voters here will decide on in an election in May, would also expand beer and wine sales in groceries beyond the 60 percent of the city where they are now legal. There is no move yet to allow a liquor store.
No organized opposition to loosening the rules has emerged, but in the past some churches have fought to hold the line.
At least seven other communities have voted in the last 12 months, with six deciding in favor of easing alcohol restrictions to varying degrees.
If the initiatives are hard to keep straight, it is little wonder. There are almost as many options to put before voters as there are mixed drinks: everything from approving beer sales only to approving all alcohol sales in grocery stores, bars, restaurants and package stores.
"If you want to be wet, you have to decide how wet you want to be there's 10 to 15 varieties of wetness," said Lou Bright, general counsel of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, who said the distinctions bedeviled even him.
State records list 51 of Texas' 254 counties as entirely dry. Until 1972, you could not legally buy mixed drinks anywhere in Texas.
"The wettest you could be was to sell beer and wine for on- or off-premises consumption and sell packaged liquors," Mr. Bright said.
But in 1972, Texas voters passed a constitutional amendment allowing localities to permit sales of mixed drinks, including liquor by the drink but only those places that had voted for the amendment.
In 1977, Plano voted to allow beer and wine sales in groceries and drink sales in restaurants with "private club" membership. Since then, the city has expanded outward, growing by 40 percent; the new area was not covered by the 1977 vote and has therefore been deemed to be dry.
In Dallas, voters left three of the city's four precincts dry and made one wet. Conversely, in Lubbock, Mr. Bright said, you can drink freely in a bar or restaurant, but you cannot buy wine or beer in a grocery.
Plano is a veritable laboratory of the law's anomalies. At a popular restaurant, Love and War in Texas, patrons who wish to order beer or wine or a mixed drink are carded and given an "Application for Preliminary Membership." Signing it enrolls one, free, in the ad hoc club.
If several patrons share a table, the first who signs is presumed to be the "member" and can order drinks for the others, who need not sign. But the host remains technically responsible for the check.
The owner of the restaurant, Tye Phelps, must keep all "membership" receipts on file for four years. Once a week, said his marketing representative, Diane Donley, "he sits down to certify that those people are all members of the club." In reality, Ms. Donley acknowledged, "he doesn't know more than a few of them."
"It costs this restaurant $13,000 a year in administrative costs," Ms. Donley said.
In addition, the law will not allow liquor to be delivered to the restaurant, so Mr. Phelps must have it picked up from the distributor. (That is one reason liquor distributors are happy to leave the law as it is the customers come to them.)
The quirks are also evident at grocery stores. At the Tom Thumb supermarket on the North Dallas Tollway and Parker Road, in a dry section, soft-drink displays occupy the prime front real estate that otherwise might be home to beer or wine, to the barely concealed chagrin of Shaun Keefer, the assistant grocery director. Mr. Shanklin, of the Chamber of Commerce, cited estimates that the loss of potential alcohol sales per supermarket ranged from $40,000 to $100,000 a month.
At another Tom Thumb, several miles away, this time in a wet zone, the assistant grocery manager, Pete Valenzuela, presided over aisles of wine and hillocks of beer. He dreamed, he said, of adding liquor, although there is scant public support for that.
One customer, Michael White, a sales representative in the plastics industry, loaded several cartons of light beer onto the checkout counter. He said he came from nearby Carrollton, where there are no sales of beer or wine, let alone liquor.
The difference between wet or dry in Plano can come down to feet, or inches. A Hooters restaurant that went up here several years ago turned out to be too close to a church to sell alcohol. It reconfigured its front door and came into compliance.
The wave of liquor referendums around Texas is being advanced by House Bill 1199, passed by the Texas Legislature in the session that ended in May. The measure eased the requirements for a petition drive to change local alcohol laws. Before this September, citizens had only 30 days to collect the signatures of 25 percent of all registered voters in the locality (about 32,000 signatures of the 130,000 voters in Plano) to put an item on the ballot. Now they have 60 days to collect 35 percent of the signatures of those who voted for governor in the last election (about 20,000 signatures in Plano). "So we have more time to collect fewer signatures," said Mr. Shanklin, who predicted success at the polls.
Mr. Bright of the Alcoholic Beverage Commission said that while Texas law was "as complicated as we could make it," other states were not far behind. During an alcohol control convention in Oklahoma, he said, he went into a supermarket to find the beer warm. He told the manager that the coolers were out and was told, "if you're selling beer for off-premises consumption, it can't be cold."
I have to disagree. This is local government. I don't see any need for statewide legislation of these issues. Although, I don't live in TX. :)
It is local and it is their business.
I noticed that a lot of these "private clubs" used to tack on a $3.00 "yearly membership" fee, even though you might not use your "membership" again before it expired - effectively doubling the price of your one drink.
The reporter needs to check the facts. Plano is not 30 miles north of Dallas. It's only 12.
Thirty miles north of here takes you to Denton and Little Elm.
Besides that, the wet/dry areas are strange.
Hell for that matter, families would be happier if the bar at the Black Eyed Pea wasn't always packed with the bar crowd, that in saner locales wouldn't be in a family resteraunt.
When I first moved to Texas nearly 25 years ago, we still had insane "blue laws", restricting the sale of certain items on Sunday. And the items made no sense at all.
I don't remember some of the extreme examples, but it was something like you could legally purchase diapers, but not a baby bottle. Supermarkets used to rope off certain aisles with the prohibited items.
Can't even serve drinks at a wedding if it isn't in your backyard. If you rent a hall that punch had better not be spiked!
I lived in NE Dallas about 15 years ago and many of the resturants and clubs in that arc from NE Dallas, thru Garland, into Plano used what was called The UniCard. Once you become a member at any one participating business, you were a member at all of them.
I "joined" a club in Texas years ago --- don't recall the county but it was down south of Ft. Worth near Glenn Rose I think --- where it was something like $5 for a year membership and your 1st two drinks were on the house. Not a bad deal really, but a PITA filling out a card just to get a damn beer. West Virginia used to have the same thing for booze --- i.e. it could only be sold in clubs, so thay had lots and lots of clubs.
.The one I remember most wouldn't allow me to buy a pair of gloves on Sunday for work on Monday. But, after noon on Sunday, I could buy enough beer and wine that I wouldn't be able to work on Monday.
We left a big tip though.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.