The Norman Transcript


January 9, 2014

Liquor by-the-drink was a success in Oklahoma

NORMAN — In 1984, Oklahoma voters approved liquor-by-the drink — arguably the beginning of the state’s emergence into modern times and certainly the end of decades of hypocrisy.

Before liquor-by-the-drink, we had liquor-by-the-wink. To get a mixed drink, you had to belong to a private club and have your own personal, marked bottle on the premises. At least that was what the law said.

In practice, of course, things were very different. “Clubs” handed out membership cards at the door. Dusty sham bottles lined the back of bars, but who knew what drink came out of what bottle.

Enforcement was a joke. In Norman, University of Oklahoma undergraduates went into restaurants on Sunday evenings, when the dorm cafeterias were closed, to find that the hostesses wouldn’t serve light beer because the police enforced the city’s blue law, but they would gladly bring a martini. No one was enforcing the state’s alcohol laws.

Despite the state’s Bible Belt reputation, liquor was flowing freely in Oklahoma, especially in the cities. It just wasn’t getting regulated or taxed.

Liquor-by-the-drink changed all that.

Several times before, Oklahoma voters had rejected liquor-by-the-drink, but in 1984, things went the other way. State Question 563 passed with a little more than 51 percent of the vote.

Last week, Oklahoman reporter Jennifer Palmer took a look at the progress of liquor-by-the-drink in the state.

Only 26 of the state’s 77 counties remain “dry.” Two more counties, Choctaw and Johnston, will take up the issue early this year.

Since the expansion of the legal sale of mixed drinks to people over the age of 21, the horrors that liquor-by-the-drink opponents prophesied haven’t come true.

The number of traffic deaths and crashes went down after liquor-by-the-drink became law, a trend that started before the law and continued after it.

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