Editor's Note: Bars and the blue law 

BLUE LAWS DON'T translate well to the modern era, and Savannah's blue law is no less goofy than any other.

Here, in order to serve alcoholic beverages on a Sunday, an establishment must derive at least 50 percent of its revenue from food sales.

Why 50 percent, and not 40 percent?

Or 60 or 10 or 90?

And if the intent is to limit alcohol consumption on the Lord's day (regardless of separation of church and state), why allow people to get a drink at all on Sunday?

And can't you get just as stinking drunk sitting at a restaurant bar?

Like I said, it's a dumb law. It's always been a dumb law.

It's a dumb law that's gotten even dumber in the wake of the 2011 approval of the sale of alcohol at the retail level on Sundays, in package shops, convenience stores, and grocery stores.

For example, the Candle Light Lounge on White Bluff has to stay closed on Sunday, to preserve the public piety, I guess. But the liquor store right next door can sell all the booze it wants.

"On Sunday at 12:30 there, you can buy a bottle of liquor and leave with it but you can't walk right next door and sit and have a drink," laughs Savannah Alderman Tony Thomas, who is on the forefront of what's likely to be a controversial effort to allow Savannah bars to open on Sundays.

As is usually the case in Savannah, it takes something concerning alcohol and drinking to get us really riled up.

Thomas, a very active Facebook user, says a recent post regarding opening bars on Sunday got the most response of any on his alderman page — "400 percent more than any other post," he claims. "People are very, very interested in this."

What's really spurring the effort now is the fact that St. Patrick's Day falls on a Monday this year, putting a crimp in the usual order of business for the extended celebration.

"If you're a bar and you don't serve food, you'll have a big Saturday, you'll shut down at 3 a.m. on Sunday, and then you can't open again until Monday morning," says Thomas. "That's a really big gap for bar owners. It's the perfect storm."

And it's no small concern. Folks in the local food and bev industry will tell you that a typical Savannah bar makes its profit margin for the entire year during the St. Patrick's Day celebration.

A lot's on the line for the local economy. Certainly a bar — with its bartenders, managers, and servers working multiple shifts — usually employs many more people than most liquor stores.

In addition, Thomas points out that the City derives income with every single drink served in a bar, in the form of the so-called "pour tax."

If it sounds a bit cynical to overturn this blue law simply for economic reasons, remember that the down economy was one of the selling points behind the successful lobbying push at the state level to allow cities to vote for retail alcohol sales on Sundays.

In the case of Savannah and many other municipalities in Georgia, voters in November 2011 opted to allow convenience stores, grocery stores, and package shops to sell on Sunday.

But it excluded bars. "The language of the law had unintended consequences," says Thomas.

"It wasn't thought through really well. If I owned a bar I would feel it's a discriminatory law," he says. "I don't think there should be discrimination between bars and package stores."

Local bar owners already feel a bit persecuted, what with the City's requirement that bartenders pay for and frequently renew their own "bar card," which includes fingerprinting and classes.

Not to mention the loophole allowing nonprofit organizations to hawk drinks outdoors on Sundays in certain locales, such as River Street, in contradiction of the blue law.

And not to mention how indoor bars routinely have to contend with the City's ambiguous noise ordinance (see Bill DeYoung's excellent cover story).

First things first: For Savannah bars to open on Sundays, there must be a change of state law, Thomas says.

Enter the local delegation to the Georgia General Assembly: Representatives Buddy Carter, Craig Gordon, Mickey Stephens, Ron Stephens, and Ben Watson, and Sen. Lester Jackson.

The General Assembly begins its annual session this week in Atlanta. Thomas says he and others will be lobbying the above names to bring forward changes to the current legislation.

"We're already working with our delegation to get this done. We're looking at different angles on how to do it," he says.

But the effort can't end there. If state law is changed, after that there will likely be a second phase: seeking approval from Savannah's mayor and City Council, at least five out of nine votes.

The mayor and aldermen will then likely find themselves besieged by competing constituencies — bar owners on one side, and the powerful local church lobby on the other.

"There could end up being a huge public fight," says Thomas.

If you're interested in seeing bars open on Sundays, for whatever reason — as a bar owner or as a patron or just in the interest of fairness — contact your state representative and state senator.

Should the fight move to City Hall, it would then behoove you to stay in touch with the mayor, your district alderman and the two aldermen-at-large to make your wishes known.

Because the opposition surely will.

"This is an opportunity to interact with government at a very crucial time," concludes Thomas.


About The Author

Jim Morekis

Jim Morekis

A native Savannahian, Jim has been editor-in-chief of Connect Savannah for ten years. The University of Georgia graduate is also a travel writer, authoring regional guides in the Moon handbook series... more

More by Jim Morekis


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