Maryland was never a dry state.
During the 13 years of Prohibition, Gov. Albert Ritchie (yes, the highway is named for him) essentially told the federal government, “Go soak your head.” Maryland was the lone state that didn’t ratify the constitutional amendment that started Prohibition, and never provided funding for its enforcement.
Local officials used Ritchie as cover to let alcohol production and consumption operate as an open secret in Baltimore, Annapolis and all along the Chesapeake Bay.
Today is the 90th anniversary of the end of Prohibition. The last nine decades have seen some doozies in terms of benders over alcohol.
If you can’t make one of the parties — it is not a national holiday, and work awaits on Wednesday — here is a little game you can play at home to learn about what’s happened.
For each answer you get right, take a drink.
Baltimore City has its own liquor board, regulating the sale of beer, wine and distilled spirits. What other Maryland cities have local control separate from their surrounding counties?
Only Annapolis. The Annapolis Alcoholic Beverage Control Board is appointed by the mayor and City Council, and its volunteer members must be honest with personal integrity. It is separate from the Anne Arundel County Board of License Commissioners.
I’ve heard speculation that it had to do with the presence of state government and the Naval Academy. My guess? It’s about power. The governor names the three members of the county board, but in practice, it usually is the senior state senator’s prerogative to pick them. In the days before charter county government, state senators were hugely powerful political figures and this may be a holdover.
With its own seven-member board, Annapolis retains power over a very lucrative business and center of employment.
What was “Bar Wars” in Annapolis?
- A long-running fight over bar hours
- An annual competition for the best cocktail recipe
- A whimsical adaptation of “Star Wars” performed by a musical theater group
In 1993, the Annapolis City Council and residents of its Historic District agreed to limit the businesses allowed to sell alcohol until 2 a.m. to the 26 already approved. Dozens of other bars were left out, and cried foul for the next 17 years.
In 2009, the city liquor board revoked the 2 a.m. license for Buddy’s Crabs and Ribs, one of the original 26. It cited a violation of a state law that liquor businesses must obey all local land use rules, and Buddy’s apparently wasn’t following a special exception granted in 1983.
The ban had been leaking for some time, but that might have been the swizzle stick that broke the camel’s back.
Despite two previously failed attempts, a commission created by Mayor Josh Cohen to study the fairness of the rule recommended a change. It passed 6-3, but Cohen voted against it because he thought it too hasty and incomplete a reform, given the amount of money liquor licenses involve.
Which Annapolis restaurant is currently in a fight over alcohol hours?
- Bob’s, Home of the Bottomless Beer Mug
- Adam’s on Fourth Street
- Overpriced Drink Barn
Adam’s on Fourth Street is a new location for an existing restaurant in Eastport. A handful of neighborhood residents fiercely fought a midnight license during zoning approval, and again at the liquor board hearing in June, calling late-night alcohol a public nuisance.
The owners say they want a neighborhood place for a meal and a drink. The city compromised and put 10 p.m. weekdays, 11 p.m. weekend closing times in its zoning approval, but the business asked for a midnight liquor license. Its lawyer said private parties might go a little late and this would be easier than getting a temporary extension for every special event.
“I just want to focus on the community first and make sure it’s a place for locals to congregate and have a good time,” co-owner Ryan Toomey told the board.
The board voted 6-1 in a virtual meeting to award the license. The license was the subject of such a fierce debate that, two days later, City Attorney Michael Lyles sent a cease-and-desist letter to Jim Conlon, one of the neighborhood opponents. Lyles wrote that liquor board members complained Conlon was harassing them, and threatened to seek criminal charges if he didn’t stop.
On Nov. 27, the Open Meetings Compliance Board agreed with a complaint by Conlon and found that the liquor board violated the state’s Open Meetings Act by closing a portion of the meeting to the public without advance notice. The board did not, however, spell out a remedy.
Annapolis, a spokesperson said, has required board members to sign a statement acknowledging the law. It issued a restaurant license with permission for off-site sales to Adam’s three days later.
Conlon, who said he didn’t know what harassment Lyle referred to, argues the license violates the same state law that caught Buddy’s 16 years ago, that requires alcohol-related businesses to follow all rules.
“No, it’s not over,” he said Monday.
When did alcohol and civil rights merge in Annapolis?
- When the city stripped liquor licenses from a men’s-only club
- In 1703, when Benjamin Fordham of Annapolis started Maryland’s first brewery
- Every year at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Awards Dinner
In 1990, then-Alderman Carl Snowden introduced legislation to strip liquor licenses from any business with discriminatory rules. The Elks Club, which prohibited women from joining and also had never admitted a Black member, sued.
When an appeals court sided with the city five years later, the Elks sold the club on Rowe Boulevard and moved to a site just over the city line in Anne Arundel County. It later followed a national club rule change and dropped the ban on women.
The state bought the city site for $3.5 million and built the District Court building.
Why doesn’t Maryland allow the sale of alcohol in grocery stores?
- Making it a bit harder will force you to think twice about another drink
- To protect small businesses
- It prevents David Trone from ruling the world
It’s not about your convenience.
Until 1978, you could buy beer or wine in a grocery store or drug store. But then chains like Giant and Safeway started a big expansion. Owners of independently owned liquor stores around the state convinced the General Assembly to protect them by banning grocery and drug store liquor sales.
“It comes up every few years, but so far the state has protected the mom and pops,” said Chuck Ferrar, a retired liquor store owner in Annapolis and past president of the American Liquor Licencees trade association.
There are a few exceptions, such as Walgreens in Annapolis and Angel’s Grocery in Pasadena, which existed before the law and operate as grandfathered licensees.
The same law prevents Total Wine & More, the national retailer started by U.S. Rep. David Trone and his brother Robert, from spreading across Maryland. One person or company can only hold one store license in the state, although the Trones own two. One is in David’s name, while the other is in Robert’s.
What is the oldest alcohol business in Anne Arundel County?
- Irv’s Basement Bar
- Reynold’s Tavern
- Goldberg’s Liquors
There is no official “oldest” designation. There are some bars and restaurants in Annapolis, such as Reynold’s Tavern and Middleton’s, with histories stretching back before the American Revolution.
But the widespread assumption is that Goldberg’s Liquors on Ritchie Highway in Brooklyn Park is the oldest continuously operated booze business. One reason may be the neon sign out front, which says “Since Prohibition.”
Owner Allen Aronstein took over the business from his father, who bought it in the 1970s. The original owners operated it as a country store when it was surrounded by farms. They added alcohol in 1933.
During World War II, as troops training at what is now Fort Meade headed into Baltimore for weekend leave, they’d stop at the store for alcohol and a glimpse at Mrs. Goldberg.
“She was famously beautiful, and stopping by for a look at her was a thing,” Aronstein said.
How did you do? If you got all six right, you might need to take a nap. You’ve had too much to drink.
This column has been updated to correct the reason Total Wine & More has two locations in Maryland despite the ban on ownership by a single company or person. Brothers David and Robert Trone each own one.