Tennessee Blue Law Blues


I recently moved from Alexandria, Virginia to Nashville, Tennessee. While in Alexandria, I wrote a bit about the silliness of the state's alcohol regulations and the arbitrary manner in which they're enforced (sometimes with SWAT teams!).

Here in Tennessee, it's a bit laxer, though there's still no shortage of silliness. I was joyed, for example, to find that I can buy army-sized bottles of good bourbon at Costco. But not actually at Costco. That would violate state law. Instead, I can buy wholesale-priced liquor at a building right next to Costco, that is owned and operated by Costco. I guess the logic is that squeezing all the booze into a smaller building makes it less likely that a minor will sneak out with a bottle. Or something.

Tennessee has an open container law, but only for drivers, not passengers. It's affectionately known as the "Here, hold this" law. There's also currently a movement underway to allow grocery stores to sell wine in Tennessee, but so far it's been held at bay by the state's liquor stores, which are currently the only places you can purchase retail wine. If you want to see some hilariously disingenuous dissembling, read the state's liquor store lobby's warnings that selling wine in grocery stores will lead to binge drinking and alcoholism.

Finally, here's an example from Nashville on how difficult it can be to navigate sometimes contradictory state and local alcohol regulations:

Taco Mamacita's owners Mike and Taylor Monin (who spun it off their popular Chattanooga restaurant of the same name) and business partner Chad Phillips knew that serving beer at Taco Mamacita would require going through a legal process. What they didn't know was how long that process would take. They opened on Dec. 11; Metro Council approved a variance April 20, allowing them to apply for a beer license, which after a couple of rounds of public comment and study was finally approved by the Metro Beer Permit Board at the end of June.

Due to a quirk in Nashville's laws, it's generally easier to get a liquor license (regulated by the state) than a beer license (regulated by Metro Nashville government). One of Metro's rules is that beer can't be sold in a restaurant that is less than 100 feet from a residence.

One of Taco Mamacita's walls faces a private home across Edgehill Avenue, necessitating the legal quest for an exemption. (The margin is pretty close. The neighboring coffeehouse on the other side of Villa Place is set back just a few more feet from Edgehill, so it conforms with the beer rules.)

Often the discrepancy between liquor and beer laws sets up the weird situation where a restaurant is permitted to serve cocktails and higher-alcohol beers (which are called "high-gravity" and qualify as liquor) but not ordinary beer with a lower alcohol content. Such was the case at Taco Mamacita.

NEXT: Bad Booze Bill on the Rocks?

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  1. Instead, I can by wholesale-priced liquor at a building right next to Costco, that is owned and operated by Costco.

    I think it was in Wisconsin where the Sam’s Club could sell liquor, but only if it was kept caged up in this gnarly floor to ceiling metal room built, if memory serves, out of rebar.

    Good prices, though, as long as you weren’t looking for top-shelf stuff.

    1. A Steampunk scene in the making.

  2. I can by wholesale-priced liquor at a building right next to Costco, that is owned and operated by Costco.

    That’s how it was when I live in AK (might still be). It’s better than here in WA, where it’s all state owned.

    Though that may change this November. Hopefully.

    The privitization drive sure has a lot of people bringing the stupid scare tactics, things along the lines of “OMG but without state liquor stores we’ll have children (TEH CHILDREN!) buying bottles of gin and tossing them back while driving their cars through crowds of people and cutting off their arms with a machete! PEOPLE WILL DIE!!!!1!111!!!11!”

    1. The privitization drive sure has a lot of people bringing the stupid scare tactics, things along the lines of “OMG but without state liquor stores we’ll have children (TEH CHILDREN!) buying bottles of gin and tossing them back while driving their cars through crowds of people and cutting off their arms with a machete! PEOPLE WILL DIE!!!!1!111!!!11!”

      That’s what happened during Prohibition.

  3. BUY. BUY.

    Im not a spelling nazi, but come on Radley, you are a professional.

    Weird one for me was stopping at a liquor store in Nashville and walking in the wrong side. I walked in the liquor side of the store instead of the beer side. They apparently arent mixed in Tennessee. The two doors were next to each other, I thought they were in and out doors. The two sides were separated by a glass wall, so I could see where I wanted to be.

    KY has the same thing with our Costcos and WalMarts and etc. Its because LIQUOR cant be sold in grocery stores, so the beer/wine/liquor are put in a separate store.

    Drugstores with liquor sections are the most interesting, they arent really separated, but they have a different checkout counter that you MUST use.

    1. Argh, damn fake names.

      1. The separate checkout might be a Louisville thing, because I haven’t had to do that in a pharmacy in Lexington or Henderson.

    2. Another reason the Sam’s in Kentucky have separate buildings for the liquor is that they can’t bar non members from buying the alcohol. The Sam’s here used to have all of the booze inside with big signs advertising the fact that according to state law, non Sam’s Club members could buy the alcohol.

  4. Costcos in California are nice, because there’s a whole aisle with nothing but gigantic bottles of liquor. I can’t believe the nannies still allow that.

    1. This.

      On the other hand, it isn’t particularly surprising because California is full of left-wing nannies instead of right-wing nannies.

    2. How gigantic? Is it just all half gallons, or is there some special extra large Costco size?

      1. 5 gallon buckets of Kirkland vodka?

      2. I think just half-gallons.

        On a related note, Kirkland beer exists, and is pretty damn tasty.

        1. Is it? I saw it at Costco and almost bought it on a lark but decided I didn’t want to risk serving an unknown beer.

  5. In Tennessee you always have to show ID, no matter how old you are or how well you know the person ringing you up.

  6. Another silly quirk, which I believe is unique to Tennessee: An underage cashier cannot so much as touch your beer purchase. (I don’t buy wine, and the local liquor store I visit is only staffed by adults, so I have no idea whether this applies to other beverages.) You go to the supermarket, put your 12-pack in your cart, and go to check out. You put everything on the conveyor belt and when the 18-year-old cashier comes to your 12-pack, you will be asked politely to reach over and scan it for them, because they are not allowed to put their hands on the beer.

    1. Kentucky does this too.

      1. God, you southerners are such primitive apes.

        1. OTOH, Southerners are somewhat more likely to trust their citizens with fireworks.

          Weirdly, there seems to be an inverse relationship there– Pennsylvania has good fireworks, state liquor stores.

          1. PA fireworks laws are terrible. Ohio has terrible laws, too, and all the PAsians come here for fireworks.

            1. Sorry, must have had them confused with another state. All those Yankee states look alike to me.

              Down South, SC and TN have very loose fireworks laws.

              1. Are you thinking about Delaware? I think they have the best fireworks laws in the East.

              2. Depends on the county in TN. Fireworks are illegal in Davidson County, where Nashville lies.

          2. Not KY. Although I was watching illegal fireworks across the street from a cop who was watching them too. Apparently the neighborhood is filled with cops, none of them cared about the blatant violations going on. Including me standing in the street with beer.

        2. Apes don’t read philosophy.

          1. Yes they do, ProL. They just don’t understand it. For instance, look at NutraSweet. He thinks Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra is the script for a porn movie.

            1. Well, you got me there, because I agree with SF’s assessment.

              Have you heard about the live performance of Star Trek episodes going on in Portland? I just posted on it. Kind out of your way, but closer than, say, Tampa.

              1. I mean, we just do Shakespeare in the Park down here. Not being all intellectual and advanced like the Northwest.

              2. They’re doing “Space Seed” this year? But who can possibly fill Montalban’s shoes?

                1. Exactly what I was thinking. It’s impossible.

                  I hope, at least, they got a Mexican actor for the role. I’d stroll off (what else can you do in a park?) if they tried to use, say, an Indian to play the part of Khan Noonien Singh.

                  1. “Our receipts are dropping.”

                    “Then raise them!”

                    “I can’t!”

                    “The Mexicans. Where’re the Mexicans?”

                    1. That’s the film, of course, but I agree with the sentiment. No one but Montalban can play Khan, and if you simply must screw with that truth, please Dios at lease hire a Mexican actor. Like Danny Trejo or maybe Salma Hayek.


          2. That’s where you’re wrong.

            1. It’s really hard to respect a Nazi philosopher, I find. If you begin to agree with something he says, you stop, like catching your chair as it starts to drop, thinking to yourself, “Whoa, the dude’s a fucking Nazi!”

              1. Nietzsche was a Nazi? Wow. That’s like saying Wagner was a Nazi. But what the hell. German…doesn’t necessarily adore Jews…must be a Nazi!

                1. He linked to Heidigger, moron. Good to see you’re as sharp as ever.

                  1. Yeah, don’t you know your Nazis?

                  2. I blame nested comments. And the Nazis. Moron.

                2. Who the fuck is talking about Nietzsche?

                  You can argue about the extent of Heidigger’s Naziness, but the fact remains that he was a Party member. Nazi philosophers, fuck off.

                  1. Besides, everyone knows that Nietzsche was no Nazi. He was a porn screenwriter. Thus Spanked Zarathustra, Icky Homo, Untimely Masturbations, Twatight of the Idols, The Rape of Wagner, The Gay Science, etc.

                    1. That was supposed to be “Twatlight”, but I think the typo is an improvement.

                    2. Isn’t Twatlight in the theaters now?

                    3. I believe so. My sister-in-law made my brother go watch it with her this past weekend. My wife moved up to even greater levels of awesomeness by never even remotely considering such a thing.

                    4. My girlfriend is going to see it tonight, and didn’t even bother to ask if I wanted to go. There’s reasons we get along.

                    5. Warty,

                      I’ll have to ask my brother how he got through the experience. I’m glad that I bought him Red Dead Redemption for his birthday, because that should have a healing effect.

                    6. Unfortunately, Twatight (I agree that the typo is actually better) is what’s playing at The Big Picture in Seattle. And before that they were playing Sex and the City 2. They’re starting to annoy me.

                    7. Egad. Maybe you really should take a road trip to Portland.

                    8. “Twatight” is not uninspired.

                    9. Is that some sort of Nazi compliment?

          3. He thought the Gettysburg Address was where Lincoln lived.

      2. At our Kroger in Prospect, we can’t touch it, either. They poor child has to call a manager over to ring it up.

    2. That’s understandable. You can get hammered by osmosis.

    3. I’d pick my checkout aisle a little differently when I go to the Kroger for beer runs were that the case.

      1. Nah. I always pick the checkout line with the cutest cashier.

        1. RC, I like you too

    4. Is that a new law? Or maybe a Nashville thing?

      During my entire academic career at Memphis State and I never had to scan my own beer. I also only had to show my ID one or two times per store. Once I was known, no one ever bugged me about that again.

      I wouldn’t be surprised to find out you are dealing with a local f-up law. Tennessee has a lot of stupid variance in drinking. For example, when I went to Camden for fishing, you had to stock up because it was a dry county (illegal to sell, but not to drink).

      1. Indiana now requires that EVERYONE be carded. EVERYONE.

    5. In Ohio it’s a different type of strange. If they’re over 18, they can scan it, and take the cash. If they’re under 18, they can’t scan it, and won’t allow you to scan it… they have to call someone over 18 over to scan it.

      And if you don’t purchase food, just alcoholic beverages, they can’t take your money either…

      1. It’s like that in Illinois, except at 21. So the clerks are constantly yelling out something like “21 on 5”, which means “can someone who’s 21 or over come to aisle 5 to scan this?”.

    6. It might be different depending on the county. When I worked at Food City in Knoxville, Tennessee, you had to be 18 to scan alcohol, not 21, and you’d have been in a lot of trouble if you let the customer scan the beer. As someone says later in the comments, cashiers under 18 would call a manager to come scan the alcohol for them.

      And Radley, don’t hold your breath on the law allowing the sale of wine in grocery stores. IIRC, the bill was introduced every year for at least the last three years, and it failed every time, because if you allow wine in grocery stores then everyone becomes an alcoholic. I mean, look at what happened when Alabama allowed wine in grocery stores!

  7. Hope your move went well Radley!

    Did Matt give you his straw hat he wears on his blog when you moved out to the country?

  8. I live in Pennsylvania.

    I chortle at (fill in your state)’s liberal liquor laws.

    1. I think PA’s laws could only have been created by a liberal.

      1. Gifford Pinchot, a self-described “progressive.”

        Ain’t nothing worse than a liberal who calls himself a progressive.

  9. About this children business. I did most of my drinking when I was a minor or at least not 21. In other words, alcohol apparently is for the children already.

  10. Tennessee’s alcohol retail stores employ more than 3,000 men and women who hold special permits from the state authorizing them to distribute alcohol Wine in Convenience and Grocery Stores would jeopardize the jobs of these people, many who have devoted their careers to the responsible sale of alcohol. Those jobs would not be replaced by convenience and grocery stores which already employ staff to sell their array of goods.


  11. I am having trouble feeling solidarity with an establishment with a name which is the Spanish equivalent of “Yo, mama!”

  12. Radley! I had no idea you lived in Nashville! Hope you like it here.

    You’ve probably already figured out that our mayor and most of our city council are “kiss the ring” types. They’re doing their damnedest to make a very livable city a little less so.

    1. Nashville is full of a-holes. If the state government wasn’t located there, they’d be just another hamlet.

      Oak Ridge is pretty cool and there are lots of smart people there.

      Of course, I spent all my time in Memphis which is the crown jewel of Tennessee.

      1. Sounds like someone picked a fight in Nashville and got his ass beat.

        I see your type come and go every day 😀

        1. I totally agree that the knuckleheads all live in Memphis.

          Memphis is the magnet for the poor country folks from Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi and even Kentucky. It is also a river town and river towns are always screwy.

          But even though Memphis is full on crazy, it is still the most entertaining city in Tennessee. If you ain’t a nuclear scientist, why else would you go to Chattanooga?

          1. All the Tennessee-residing nuclear scientists I know live near Oak Ridge.

      2. Memphis which is the crown jewel of Tennessee.

        Son, you sound stuck on stupid. Memphis is the toilet of Tennessee.

        1. Yeah, only people from Memphis would claim “crown jewel” status. They might get arguments on 3rd place from Chattanooga.

  13. Tennessee has an open container law, but only for drivers, not passengers. It’s affectionately known as the “Here, hold this” law.

    Florida used to have a similar law. Back in the 80s, after a long day of stupid work, the boys and I would pick up a six-pack or two of “travelers” for the ride home. It was “happy half-hour,” but on wheels, at 60 MPH. No children or animals were harmed in the living of that life.

    1. One of the best reasons for living in Memphis was this law.

      I had thought the driver could be drinking too, though. I had also been told that if you are driving with an open beer, you have forfeited your right to a roadside sobriety test, straight to the Breathalyzer for you.

      The Breathalyzer is having some problems here in sunny MN. Seems some pesky defense lawyers have discovered some issues with the source code that runs on them.

  14. Yeah, Penna. has entered the 20th century. Now they are experimenting with wine vending machines in several grocery stores. To operate, you swipe your driver’s license, have your photo taken, blow into a breathalyzer, show a permission slip from your religious advisor, guardian, wife or local committeeman, display any tats, have eyeball scanned, provide a dna sample, and recite the pledge of allegience backward. Then you get to select your overpriced bottle of wine. “This is just convenient one stop shopping” said one of the first customers at the Giant Supermarket near Harrisburg.

    1. Nice.

      I hope that’s satire.

      1. Not entirely.

        1. Right. There is no eyeball scan.

          Is there?

          1. No, but you have to call yourself a worthless degenerate.

            Swear to God, to get a PA CCW, you have to certify that you are not a “lunatic” nor a “drunkard.”

            God help pennsylvania move into the 20th century.

  15. Wow, gotta love those Tennessee blues!


  16. Question for Radley fans:

    What would you say are the four or five most egregious, most ridiculous, most absurdly unjust cop stories Balko has ever covered?

    Even if you don’t have four but can only think of one, throw it out there.


    1. I liked the one where the dog shot the cop. Or was that a dream?

    2. Kathryn Johnston (Im sure I misspelled both her names) has to lead the list.

  17. Balko:
    That liquor at the place attached to Costco is not “wholesale-priced.” It’s full price. The best prices in town are over at Frugal MacDougal’s, on 8th and Division. Close to your apartment. Midtown Wine & Spirits over on Church & 16th Ave N is also good – worse prices on liquor, but good wine selection and helpful sales staff.

    Also, the state liquor laws are worse than just forbidding liquor and wine sales in grocery stores and on Sundays; there is also a state-mandated distributor monopoly that keeps prices artificially high and curtails the availability of various products.

    Unusually, California is quite the bastion of free market policy in this area!

    1. I think Frugal McDougal’s was the place I went in the wrong door.

      Garmin tried to get me carjacked directing me back to the interstate.

    2. Unusually, California is quite the bastion of free market policy in this area!

      Likely directly related to its wine-producer status. In every other state it is the distributor that has the money, political connections and power.

  18. Technically, these aren’t blue laws that you are discussing. Blue laws are the ones that restrict a business from being open on Sunday, or selling of alcohol on Sunday.

    1. They also restrict the selling of Smurfs on Sunday.
      Little-known fact.

  19. Growing up in The Diamond State we use to go over to Elkton, MD to buy our annual fireworks supply. I remember buying a gross of cherrybombs for $2. A friends dad would take us and he’d buy enough for a block celebration on the 4th of July. Thinking back and applying DOT rules of today … I’ll bet we would have to put ‘A’ plackards on the vehicle now. Enough explosives in that stationwagon to put us in LEO.
    Ah, those were the days.
    As for liquor laws? Try some of the western states. In UT when ordering a mixed drink the tender uses this very sophisticated gadget stuck on the scotch bottle that meters out the EXACT amount of booz. All monitored, gaged and logged by a computer. Weird.
    And some counties in KS … don’t get me started.

    1. In Utah, and in certain types of bars in NC, you have to be a “member,” i.e. have a wino at the bar certify that he can vouch for your character.

      Thanks, Joe Smith. You dick.

  20. I had no idea Balko was in Nashville, along with apparently quite a few other Reasoners.

    We should do a Reason meet-up at a bar in town some time. Could be a hoot.

      1. Balko isn’t allowed to bring any videos though, I don’t want to get all raged up in a bar. Bars are for drinking, talking, yelling, and admiring the fine Nashville scenery.

  21. Wow – this stuff with preventing the little ones from so much as touching an unopened beer is stupider than I thought this crap could even get. Unbelievable. Kinda makes me lose any hope of ever seeing some some sanity restored to the way America deals with alcohol…

  22. Someone needs to tell Dana that the amount of alcohol in a beer, a shot and a glass of wine is the same.

    I do miss Louisiana. You can buy beer and liquor until 2 a.m. at the grocery or convenience stores. Plus they have awesome drive thru daiquiri huts that serve whatever you want.

  23. As one born and raised here, welcome to Trashville! It doesn’t make any sense to the natives, either.

  24. Grew up in Nashville and lived there for many years. I miss it but definitely not the liquor laws.

  25. I grew up in KY, within, less than hour drive to Evansville, IN; and now I live in the Nashville area. I am well aware of the peculiar laws that each state has put me through. In IN you can not buy cold beer at a gas station or a grocery store. In KY you have to be 20 and a day to serve alcohol. In TN you can’t buy beer at a liqueur store, or much or anything else for that matter. In KY, liqueur stores were where you could buy beer, that you could not find anywhere else.
    As strange as Nashville area laws are, I will not move any further south, unless there’s oysters and a big increase in my pay.

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