By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The irony of it all: Though 95 percent of the world's bourbon-style whiskey is produced in Kentucky, it's illegal to sell alcoholic beverages in 65 of the state's 120 counties.
Still, a change in the state local-option law prompted voters to approve legal alcohol sales in 11 cities and counties over the past three years. That's one more locality than the total that loosened dry laws in the entire 1990s.
Five Northern Kentucky governments also have recently relaxed their restrictions on restaurant, hotel or Sunday sales, and a sixth is considering doing so.
Leaders of Northern Kentucky communities say they're chucking archaic liquor laws to boost tourism and create more jobs. One city's action creates a "domino effect,'' as others jump on the bandwagon for fear they'll be left behind.
Burlington resident Aaron Turner, 24, applauded the changes.
"This will keep the money in Kentucky,'' said Turner, as he drank a beer at the Lone Star Steakhouse and Saloon in Florence last week.
Before Northern Kentucky cities began changing their liquor laws, said the Cincinnati Bengals fan, he would patronize Queen City restaurants or bars when he wanted a brew before a Sunday football game.
"If I don't go to the game, I'd still like to stop at a Northern Kentucky restaurant or bar and have a beer while I'm watching the game on TV,'' Turner said. "Now, I can do that.''
While some people aren't happy about the changes, the success of places like the Newport on the Levee shows there's plenty at stake.
"The more options you have in an area, the better off you are in attracting people,'' said Tom Cardonio, president of the Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau.
As evidence of the impact that alcohol sales can have on a development's success, he cited Newport on the Levee, the retail, dining and entertainment complex on the Ohio riverfront with 11 establishments selling adult beverages.
Just across the street, the Hofbrauhaus, a German-themed restaurant and beer garden, has had waits of two hours or more on Friday and Saturday nights since opening in late April.
Two years ago, the Newport City Commission approved the creation of a local microbrewery license to attract establishments like the Hofbrauhaus, said Newport City Manager Phil Ciafardini.
Other changes, made partly to bring Newport regulations in line with state law, allowed wine auctions and hotel room service to provide alcohol.
Covington triggered many of Northern Kentucky's changes in local liquor laws when officials there voted two years ago to let the beer flow earlier on Sundays.Restaurant owners complained they were losing business to Cincinnati establishments where sports fans could buy early morning Sunday brews.
Covington City Commission responded by permitting restaurants to sell Sunday beer at 11 a.m. instead of 1 p.m. Liquor stores and carryouts also can now sell beer two hours earlier on Sundays.
Taylor Mill City Commission voted on June 11 to let local convenience stores, carryouts and gas stations start selling beer at 11 a.m. on Sundays. Store owners had complained they were losing gas and food sales to establishments in neighboring Covington because of the difference in sales times for beer.
In other changes:
Independence City Council will decide July 7 whether to allow the sale of beer and liquor starting at 11 a.m. on Sundays, instead of 1 p.m. The high-growth suburb bordering Taylor Mill is considering the change after the concessionaire for the Kenton County Golf Course complained that Sunday morning golfers were illegally sneaking beer onto the course, and patronizing neighboring communities' restaurants and bars after golfing on Sunday mornings.
In February, officials in Florence, Boone County's largest city, approved the Sunday sale of mixed drinks and wine from 1 p.m. until closing in certain restaurants after managers at Red Lobster and Olive Garden told the City Council they were losing business to Cincinnati, Kenton County and other areas when customers couldn't order a glass of wine or a cocktail with their Sunday dinner. Beer also can be sold starting at 11 a.m. on Sundays, two hours earlier than before.
"Council wanted to help existing restaurants,'' said Florence Mayor Diane Whalen. "We also wanted to attract higher quality sit-down restaurants that might have seen our liquor laws as a barrier.''
Not everyone is happy with such changes, though.
In the city of Corbin, located in Whitley and Knox counties in southeastern Kentucky, voters in some precincts voted in May to go "moist,'' allowing alcohol sales in some restaurants but not the county as a whole.
Jean Prewitt, a Central Baptist Church member in Corbin, Ky., worries that the change will open the door to packaged liquor stores.
"We, as Christians, believe that it's immoral to drink,'' Prewitt said. "We feel that it ruins families and costs society a great deal of money. The other side thinks they're going to make a lot of money, but it's going to cost us a lot in the long run through laws being broken and people being ruined.''
Sara McKinney, state chair of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said MADD doesn't take a position on wet/dry issues that cover such a broad spectrum.
"We're more concerned about the steps that a community takes to ensure that bars and restaurants selling alcohol are adequately regulated,'' McKinney said. "We want to see regulations and policies addressing hours of operation, the seller/server training, happy-hour policies, and (an establishment's) checks on servers who have past violations.''
Corbin Mayor Scott Williamson said arrests for driving under the influence generally dropped in Kentucky towns that had allowed certain-size restaurants to sell alcohol. He added that police in and around Corbin routinely arrest bootleggers driving trucks and campers loaded with liquor purchased elsewhere.
"Just because an area's dry doesn't mean there's no drinking,'' he said. "The DUI rate in southeastern Kentucky is about 15 percent higher than the rest of the state, and we're supposedly dry.''
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