Drinking Wars: A Wet Decade

Few things rouses a populace like a vote on alcohol sales. The 1980's in Watauga were a time of controversy, pro-business versus pro-morality, wet versus dry, and a flurry of elections challenges.A Wet Decade


The decade opened with five Blowing Rock establishments having their beer and wine permits revoked because of the Fifty-One Percent Rule. The state ABC board ruled that Holley's Tavern, PB Scott's, Grubstake Saloon, Hobbit Hutch, and the Library Club did not meet the requirement that a business have more than half its sales in food. Other cases were dismissed. Under the rule, establishments had to maintain "Grade-A kitchens primarily serving food."

P.B. Scott's spokesman said at the time, "Whether or not we sell beer and wine, we intend to stay open." They did, for several more years. A Superior Court judge temporarily reinstated the club's license. But their license was permanently revoked in 1982, and they closed in 1983. The geodesic dome building was torn down in 1987 to make way for condominiums.

A Wet DecadeThe club had brought internationally-famous acts such as REM, B.B. King, and Bonnie Raitt to the area. Upon closing, one club's sign proclaimed "Welcome to Blowing Rock- Turn Your Clock Back 20 Years."

A liquor by the drink referendum went before Blowing Rock voters in 1981, passing by 35 votes despite strong opposition from the Christian Action League. The League claimed irregularities in the voting and succeeded in calling for a second vote. This time, with 83 percent of voters turning out, the measure was defeated by 58 votes.

In the fall of 1983, the newly-incorporated town of Beech Mountain approved on-premises beer and wine sales, with nearly 75 percent of 154 voters approving of the sales. In 1986, a Banner Elk vote for on-premises beer and mixed drink sales lost by six votes.

In 1986, a state law raised the minimum drinking age for beer and wine to 21. The law was passed due to a federal law which tied federal highway funds to a higher legal drinking age.

That same year also brought the Wet Wars back to the surface in Blowing Rock, mostly due to a referendum for on-premises beer sales in Boone. The Boone Town Council called for the referendum in a split vote, and a huge voter registration initiative began. A group opposed to the vote tried to get thousands of Appalachian State University students dropped from the voter rolls, but a judge disallowed the challenge. Beer and wine sales were approved overwhelmingly in March of 1986.

Blowing Rock, fearing the loss of revenue, held a liquor-by-the-drink vote that same year. The vote passed. The resort town was no longer the party destination of choice, though. Club owners reported that drink sales revenue was down over fifty percent in Blowing Rock the following year. Liquor-by-the-drink petitions circulate every few years in Boone, but no serious challenge has been mounted. One drive begun earlier this year sank without a ripple.

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