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It’s easy to pick out an out-of-towner at the grocery store on a Sunday. Often times he or she will walk confidently up to the cash register holding a six-pack of beer or a bottle of wine, only to be turned away due to Indiana’s Blue Laws. It’s a list of common complaints among visitors: the hassle of not being able to buy cold beer at a grocery, not being able to bring your children into a bar, and the dreaded no Sunday sales. Things always could be worse. When looking at the history of liquor regulations in Indy, Big Brother isn’t paying nearly as much attention as he used to.

La Bee's was one of the many nightspots that lined Meridian. Today it is nothing more than parking for a neighboring building (Courtesy Indiana State Library)

La Bee’s was one of the many nightspots that lined Meridian. Today it’s nothing more than parking for a neighboring building. (Image: Indiana State Library)

Alcohol regulations were around long before Indiana was even a state. Back in 1805, the Indiana Territory began requiring a liquor license for any tavern, at a cost of twelve dollars. This was hardly oppressive to the tavern owner; the only stipulation was that “innkeepers furnish good entertainment and accommodations for man and horse.” Everything else was fair game, as long as nobody sold alcohol to an Indian within 30 miles of the territorial capitol of Vincennes.

What's the word? The Thunderbird has recently returned to its former location in Fountain Square. It was known for its rock-a-billy acts in the late 50's (Courtesy Indiana State Library)

What’s the word? The Thunderbird has recently returned to its former location in Fountain Square. It was known for its rock-a-billy acts in the late 50’s. (Image: Indiana State Library)

By the time statehood came around in 1816, a whole new set of restrictions was enlisted to purveyors of spirits. Sunday sales were prohibited. A $500.00 charge was set for liquor licenses and sales to minors, and intoxicated people were banned. This held on throughout the nineteenth century, but change was brewing. In 1872, the Indiana Prohibition Party was formed, and the temperance movement was in full swing. By 1917, 33 Indiana Counties were dry, and the following year statewide prohibition went into effect.

Life has been quite hum-drum at Jackie's. The site became an International House of Pancakes and houses a CVS (Courtesy Indiana State Library)

Life has been quite hum-drum at Jackie’s. The site became an International House of Pancakes and home to a CVS. (Image: Indiana State Library)

By 1933, hurting Hoosiers had finally had enough.  In a statewide referendum to repeal, the vote was 554,129 to 311. Booze was back, although heavily regulated. Here is a listing of some of the more ridiculous laws, and the year they were repealed.

– Women bartenders prohibited (1967)
– Alcohol sales banned the day after each holiday (now banned only on Christmas Day)
– Women forbidden to sit or stand at a bar (1969)
– Alcohol and gasoline may not be purchased at the same location (1984)
– No alcohol sold in drugstores (1989)
– Bars must be separate from family dining operations (1996)
– No alcohol can be sold in grocery stores (2002)
– No alcohol can be served during the voting hours of an election (2010)

The next time a visitor gives you grief because they can’t have a Sunday six-pack, remind them that it could be worse. Direct them to the nearest micro-brewery, where you may actually buy some beer and take to the tailgate. What are some of the more ridiculous Indiana Laws that you remember and where were some of your favorite places to wash away their memory?

The Key's was a popular piano bar on the strip along Meridian (Courtesy Indiana State Library)

The Keys was a popular piano bar on the strip along North Meridian Street. (Image: Indiana State Library)

Printed Sources:

Indianapolis Star, May 10th 1961
Indianapolis Star April 27th 1957

2 responses to “At Your Leisure: That’s the Spirit!”

  1. Basil Berchekas Jr says:

    I’ve seen Sunday sales at both grocery stores and liquor stores in states “down South”…they’re the typical conservative Southern states…the Hoosier State needs to drop this “competition” to be the most conservative oriented state…and “grow up” with “adult” liquor laws, among other laws and attitudes…

  2. Sam Jacobs says:

    I grew up in the Indianapolis in the 1940s, 50s, and early 60s. I can remember a couple of ridiculous liquor laws. For some reason, you couldn’t walk from the bar to a table with a drink in your hand. Also if you tried to buy alcohol at a grocery and the checkout girl was under 21, she couldn’t ring it up. She would have to tell you what buttons to push on the cash register.

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