Hank Stoppelbein Enjoys a Legal Cocktail at Benedictine’s Restaurant

8:04 a.m., November 21, 1978

Local drinking customs changed dramatically on November 21, 1978.

Moments after an ABC delivery truck rolled up to Benedictine's Restaurant on Fairview Road, bartender Kevin Johnson grabbed a bottle of vodka, rushed to the bar, and served Charlotte's first legal cocktail in seventy years.

Customer Hank Stoppelbein downed the zesty concoction at 8:04 a.m. as a packed restaurant cheered and TV cameras rolled. "It's very good," he told reporters. "My parents would be proud."

Voters had approved "liquor-by-the-drink" in a referendum two months earlier. Approval came after a fierce battle that divided along social, cultural, and religious lines. Proponents contended that liquor-by-the-drink was "reasonable and rational" and would promote tourism and conventions. Opponents argued it would result in greater consumption and lead to more alcoholism.

Before mixed drinks there was a quaint custom known as "brown bagging." Those wanting a cocktail with dinner carried their own liquor into a restaurant and ordered "set-ups," usually ginger ale or tonic water.

Members of country clubs and other private clubs kept an ample supply of liquor in their lockers and bartenders were allowed to mix cocktails from member's private stock. When members' liquor supply ran low, they could "borrow" from well-stocked lockers belonging to "John Doe."

The decision to allow mixed drinks was the catalyst for construction of upscale restaurants, lounges, and luxurious new hotels. And, supporters will argue, liquor-by-the drink has proved a better way to control alcohol consumption than the brown-bagging system it replaced.

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