Dry Zone Status for Heights Restaurants Could Finally End on November 7

Taps at Eight Row Flint.
Taps at Eight Row Flint. Photo by Chuck Cook Photography
Restaurants and bars in the Heights dry zone could shed annoying alcohol sale restrictions if all goes well on Election Day, November 7. The Houston Heights Restaurant Coalition (HHRC), which collected more than 1,500 signatures to get the proposition on next month's ballot, is hoping that residents in the neighborhood will vote for Proposition F, or as it reads:

Relating to the area formerly known as the City of Houston Heights as it existed on
February 19, 1918. The legal sale of mixed beverages.
"Prohibition went into effect 100 years ago," says Morgan Weber of Agricole Hospitality (Coltivare, Eight Row Flint and Revival Market), a proponent of ending the dry zone regulations. He's hoping residents will vote for a full-blown repeal of it, which would ease booze regulations at restaurants and bars but not at liquor stores. Because the language on the ballot is ambiguous, Weber and his colleagues on the HHRC will be blanketing the neighborhood to remind neighbors to get out and vote for (not against) the measure. "And you can support it all you want, but you have to live in the Heights to vote. I think there is some confusion on that."

Making beverage sales legal will allow some 20 Heights-area establishments to operate on a level playing field with every other restaurant and bar in the city. Under current law, restaurants and bars in the Heights dry zone operate as private clubs. Customers must hand over valid IDs and sign up as a member to drink, and there are tons of back-of-house headaches when it comes to operations.

Earlier this summer a contact for the HHRC, Bryan Poff, told the Press, "The TABC doesn't even like the loophole," because it's such a hassle. Though Chris Porter, a representative for TABC, tells the Press that the commission does not, in fact, view the loophole that way: "TABC respects the decisions of Houston Heights voters and will objectively enforce their will when it comes to the types of alcohol retailers allowed within the jurisdiction."

Currently, restaurants must set up functioning nonprofits to handle the booze, figuring out a percentage of alcohol-to-food sales and immediately depositing that money in the nonprofit's account, which is only accessible via cumbersome fixed fees. The clubs are also required to use a Class B distributor, such as Spec's, and are also charged at nearly 8 percent higher cost than establishments located outside the dry zone. Plus, they can't have liquor delivered, but must pick it up in person.

"It's such a massive pain," Weber says. "We spend a lot of money tracking this and it will allow us to operate as easy as everyone else in the city." 

Just last year, the Heights neighborhood approved a similar proposition, fully supported by beloved Texas grocer H-E-B, allowing grocery and convenience stores to sell beer and wine at retail for off-premise consumption only.

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Gwendolyn Knapp is the food editor at the Houston Press. A sixth-generation Floridian, she is still torn as to whether she likes smoked fish dip or queso better.