Uncorking Loophole in this Law

U.S. Prohibition started in the 1920's and lasted 13 years. In Texas, it went on for 23 years. And in Houston it's still in place in an area known as The Heights near downtown. But some of that is about to change with an art event this weekend. From the KUHF NewsLab Edel Howlin has the story

(Sound of a tap pour)

This is not a common sound to hear in The Heights. That’s because the TABC still prohibits the sale of alcohol in certain sections of this well-known neighborhood. This law has been in place since 1912, before national prohibition even began. David Bush with the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance says it was the Temperance Movement that initially turned the Heights dry.

“There was a lot of concern about saloons. Honestly the Temperance movement was aimed at Working Class. Making sure you had a good sober workforce and the Houston Heights was very much a working class neighborhood at that point.”

Bush says The Heights was its own city when it banned alcohol. The areas included in this ban form kind of an L-shape. He explains:

“The dry area is north of White Oak Bayou and extends up to 22nd street. Oxford is the eastern boundary Herkimer is the western boundary. But then there’s another section between 16th and 26th st, Durham is the western boundary and then between 22nd and 26th st, Yale is the eastern boundary.”

Bush said when it later became a part of the city of Houston it voted to keep prohibition in place. And he says it still stands to this day, well sort of. Mitch Cohen is the founder of First Saturday Arts Market on 19th street. Slap bang in the middle of dry Heights. Cohen recently came across a law that will get that area a little wet this weekend.

“The law changed in 2009 that allowed Texas wineries that make Texas grown grapes or at least 75% to sell their wine anywhere in the state of Texas with a festival permit.”

So Cohen plans to mix alcohol with art, starting tomorrow evening. His accomplice and the people with the permit to sell alcohol is Vintner’s Own Winery. A winery just on the edge of The Heights. Vintner’s supplies wine where Texas grapes are in the majority. Rion Enroth is with Vintner’s Own and says they’re excited to be involved in this event.

“Main thing is I really like the concept of bringing something that’s heights-based to the people in the Heights.”

So will First Saturday Arts founder Mitch Cohen make a habit of introducing alcohol to an area that banned it nearly a hundred years ago?

“I really am not a proponent for having the dry laws repealed in the Heights. I think it kind of leaves a little bit of charm.”

Whether prohibition proponents notice the popping of corks tomorrow on 19th street remains to be seen. But in Cohen’s case one thing is for sure, where there’s a law there’s a loophole.  From the KUHF Newslab, I’m Edel Howlin.


Edel Howlin

Edel Howlin

Executive Producer, Special Projects

Edel is an executive producer of special projects working on station-wide, multi-platform initiatives such as DiverseCity and Houston Public Media's political podcast Party Politics. At Houston Public Media, Edel started as a reporter covering veteran issues and the quirkier side of life in Houston. Before her time in public radio she worked for...

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