Texas, Oh Texas
The Battle of the Alcohol
By Mark Stenberg
From the August issue
The interesting thing about Texas alcohol laws is that the state actually has a surprising mix of remarkably conservative and liberal drinking rules. They are generally pro-Texan, pro-family and pro-Christian, which at times amusingly conflict. The result is a unique scattershot of contradictions that you could only find in Texas.
For instance, several archaic blue laws restrict when and where alcohol can be purchased in the state. While it seems like common sense to Texans that only liquor stores would sell liquor, only eleven other states practice the concept.
Certain holidays further restrict the sale of liquor, forbidding these vestiges of hard alcohol to be open on Sundays, Thanksgiving, New Year’s Day or Christmas Day in a nod to the Christian origins of many state laws, as well as time-honored crowd control tactics.
However, liquor can be consumed at restaurants on Sundays before noon as long as the drink is paired with food. And—important college tip—liquor and alcohol consumption is legal at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday at sporting events, festivals or wineries, so just convince your friends that you’re that going to ACL Weeks 1 and 2 for love of the music.
Time restrictions for alcohol are common, but Texas has a few unique twists on traditional serving hours. Beer and wine can be sold from 7:00 a.m. to midnight Monday through Friday, from 7:00 a.m. ‘til 1:00 on Saturday, and from noon to midnight on Sunday.
Not so fast though, as in Texas no alcohol can be sold on Sundays that exceeds 17 percent ABV. So certain mixers, wines and other concoctions—though non-liquor products—still fall into the realm of ‘Tools of Satan’ and are verboten on Sundays.
Another devilish institution, Texas’ infamous dry counties are another legal minefield that its drinking citizens have to navigate. If you’ve ever been at a ranch in Texas and driven 2 hours on a beer-run, then you know how annoying these can be. They’re usually a byproduct of outdated laws and a lack of reason to update them.
In actuality, there are very few true dry counties. Legally, a dry county means all forms of alcohol consumption and purchase are illegal everywhere in the county, whereas in wet counties all forms of alcohol consumption are legal everywhere in the county. As a result, most counties in Texas are mixed counties, allowing alcohol laws to differ from area to area.
Take Irion County, where only beer is legal, or Rusk County, where beer, wine and mixed beverages are permitted—but only in restaurants.The state is full of these non-sequiturs and upon inspection begins to look like a giant Rubik’s Cube of different combinations of alcohol laws: fun for a time but ultimately frustrating and impossible to figure out if you’ve been drinking.
The flip side of Texas’ antiquated drinking laws, like the uncle who only parties when his wife’s not around, are quite fun. For instance, Texas is one of only ten states in which parents can purchase alcohol for minors so long as the parents are visible. Johnny Manziel brought this gem of a law to the public’s attention when he was harangued for visiting Avenu Lounge in Dallas with his parents.
Another group of legal underage-drinking enablers, spouses, can share a drink thanks to a similar loophole. So long as one half of the marital duo is of legal drinking age, they take on guardianship responsibilities for their partner and can legally buy them drinks. While it’s not author-recommended, marrying an older spouse is perhaps the quickest way to underage drinking, though it entails spending a lifetime with that person.
The rules get weirder. Some alcohol prohibitions exist in Texas that many of its citizens are unaware of, only noticing when their purchase of booze is obstructed. For instance, dry counties such as Houston Heights circumvent the rules by forming private “drinking clubs.”
These clubs are the only legal way to consume alcohol in the county. The registration, however, consists of presenting a driver’s license to the doorman, which bars require anyway. As a results, many citizens of Houston Heights have drank for years without knowing their country is legally dry.
And in perhaps the most uniquely Texan drinking proposition, the sale of alcohol at gun shows was suggested in 2014. This law would have combined beer and firearms, the unofficial symbols of the Texas coat of arms. Unfortunately, voters struck down the law over fears of possible accidents, dealing a body blow to the American dream.
There is consolation in knowing that a state district court pronounced a ban on drinking beer while floating rivers to be unconstitutional, providing heartening evidence that there is still cause for hope in the Lone Star State.
So, while Texas may boast some of the more buzz-killing alcohol laws in the country, they counterbalance the sobriety of Sundays with the freedom to drink with your parents. And while sales of alcohol stop at midnight, underage spouses can drink all night if they marry the right person.
Drinking in Texas ends up being a gamble—which may be legally paired with alcohol in bet-free games—because occasionally the odd dry-county laws or a weird Sunday 17 percent snafu will ruin a night, but the drive-thru daiquiris, beer-laden river floats and hope of alcohol at gun shows do more than their fair share to make drinking in Texas pretty fun.