Dear fellow New Yorkers (and friends in Indiana):
Isn’t it a drag, after you paint the town pink with a drinking binge from Friday to Saturday, that you can’t settle your headache on Sunday morning with a run to your local liquor store to chase the hair of the dog? Damn those Blue Laws!
Most of us in New York have become accustomed to this odd Puritanical obstruction, but recent news that Connecticut was on the path to repealing its Blue Laws opened up old wounds. Everyone made such a big deal about the recent legislation that was passed in Connecticut, and how it was going to make Indiana the last state with strict laws restricting the sale of alcohol on Sunday.
What annoys me is the suggestion that Indiana was the last state standing. But you and I still can’t buy booze here in NYC on Sunday morning. Even Fresh Direct refuses to deliver liquor or spirits before 12 noon. Trust me, I’ve tried.
Despite legislation that liberalized New York’s Blue Laws over the past 10 years, the sale of beer, liquor and wine is still prohibited here before 8 a.m. What annoys me there is that it appears there’s a fair amount of self-regulation going on: Fresh Direct, and all the stores in my neighborhood, keep the prohibition on for an extra four hours. Whether it’s legislated or not, most of the New York City functions as if the Blue Laws keep us dry until noon.
There’s a long, quaint history to our country’s Blue Laws, dating back to when we were a god-fearing nation. At first, folks weren’t even allowed to play or work on Sunday. By the 1960s, people started challenging these rules on the basis of separation of church of state, and the Supreme Court took it upon itself to defend restricting the selling of alcohol, partly on the belief that there should be “a day of rest, repose, recreation and tranquility.” How those justices could deem beer and repose as mutually exclusive gets me.
Since then, there’s been a slow erosion of the restrictions, and the current recession really helped crack them, under the logic that commerce shouldn’t be restricted in these tough times. That was the driving rationale behind the new Connecticut legislation. The governor there insisted that future Sundays of alcohol sales would mean a windfall of cash, in the millions; money that presumably flows out of the state for people who buy their liquor in neighboring states. Again, what everyone, the governor included, seemed to forget, is that New York still has de facto and de jure Blue Laws in effect.
Why do I care? Rather than getting particularly thirsty on Sunday mornings, this is a point of principle. Just last year, when I was in California during Easter weekend, my friend Erik asked me to pick up some booze for a picnic. I scoffed, and told him I didn’t think I’d be able to get anything on Easter morning. He scoffed right back, and directed me to a nearby mall where, sure enough, I, and dozens of other free Americans, happily piled up our carts (while wearing flip-flops, no less) with libations. It was barely 9 a.m. It really took the edge off my New York City pride.