The Asheville ABC Board reported liquor sales of $30.4 million in 2016, up from $22.1 million in 2012. That’s a 38 percent jump in just 4 years.
Those numbers include sales to bars and restaurants, and that’s not counting the beer sales in “Beer City, USA.”
Let’s just be honest – Asheville has a strong alcohol culture. And it’s growing. I don’t have any problem with the alcohol culture, so long as we treat alcohol, and each other with respect. Part of that respect includes bartenders making sure their customers don’t become so drunk that they’re dangerous to the public.
I started an initiative to increase awareness about the over service of alcohol by bars and restaurants in and around Asheville. My law firm recently launched a video on social media which includes interviews from District Attorney Todd Williams, Chief law enforcement agent for the ABC Board Al Bottego, and other people in the craft beer and service community. I hope to point out to people that drunk driving is often preventable by not just the drunk driver, but also the bar that serves the drunk driver. In fact, North Carolina law says that a bar cannot serve someone who is intoxicated.
We’ve all seen people at a bar or restaurant in Asheville who’ve had too much to drink – stumbling, swaying, slurring, ordering more drinks. Most of the time we just laugh at them or try to avoid them. But as a lawyer, I’ve handled cases where a bar continued to serve alcohol to that person and then watched them drive away without a second thought. When that happens, people get hurt or even killed. And the bar could have prevented it.
I handled a case where a bar served a person so many beers and shots that the bartender literally had to carry him to his car. The bartender just watched him drive away. A few minutes later that person caused a crash and seriously injured four other people. I handled another case where the bar served someone enough drinks that his blood alcohol level was 0.23 percent when he caused a car crash, nearly three times the legal limit. I could go on and on.
In our video I talk to a gentleman who brags that he had already been served 3 double shots of whiskey and 4-6 beers at the bar. He is obviously drunk, and being served more. When I asked his bartender about whether she ever cuts anyone off, she told me that she’s “not in the business of telling people no.”
Another issue is that many people come to Asheville and are not used to drinking craft beer, which is usually much higher alcohol content (ABV) than the beer they drink back home. So when people drink 2 or 3 local craft high gravity beers, they’re really drinking 4 or 6 bud lights’ worth of alcohol. Some high gravity beer in Asheville is 11-15 percent alcohol, or as much alcohol as 3-4 traditional beers in a single pint. As part of my initiative, I am also distributing thousands of coasters to pass around to local bars and breweries, reminding people that just 1 Asheville craft beers can have as much alcohol as 2 traditional beers. The coasters also remind people to “Serve Safe, Drink Safe” and includes phone numbers for local cab companies.
Most of us want Asheville to continue to be a destination for tourists and tourist money – myself included. But we need to learn how to balance “Beer City USA” with responsible alcohol service. I know most people want to put all of the blame of drunk driving on the driver, and rightly so. However, alcohol impairs judgment, and at some point, a drinker no longer has control over their own decisions. This is when the bartender should step in and make sure that person does not become dangerously drunk. I like beer too; I’m not saying that nobody should drink or even that everyone should stop after 2-3 drinks. I’m just asking that we think about each other when we make decisions around alcohol.
This is a problem in Asheville, whether we want to believe it or not. But we can fix it. As ABC chief Al Bottego says in the video: “This is a human thing. We have a responsibility to everyone else that we walk the planet with to try to do the right thing not only for ourselves, but for them.” We all need to do a better job of looking out for each other, bartenders, drinkers, and restaurant owners included. If we don’t, Asheville’s alcohol culture will swallow us whole.
Lakota Denton is an attorney in Asheville. To watch the “Serve Safe Drink Safe, Do the Right Thing” Video, visit the campaigns official webpage: here.or visit Lakota R. Denton, P.A. on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Lakotardenton