The blast of a conch shell signals the opening of the bar on Sundays at Humble Pie. The long, clear note rings through the murmur of the brunch crowd at the stalwart Raleigh warehouse-district destination, gently mocking the state’s antiquated blue law while simultaneously celebrating the bubbles of the day’s first mimosa.
Before the waiter with the pink-lined shell moves to the middle of the black-and-white checkered floor, the bartender already has lined up a long row of empty glasses – tumblers with salted rims waiting to become Bloody Marys; rocks glasses to be filled with a potent mix of tequila and citrus called Corvette Summer; and wine glasses standing by for service to Bellinis and mimosas.
“Would you like me to get something set up for you?” the bartender asks us, as we watch the minute hand on the clock above the door click steadily past 11:55.
Of course we would. I smile with glee and the subtle agony of anticipation.
It’s not like I’ve been waiting for months for a Humble Pie mimosa. I have orange juice and bubbly at home in fact, so I could have poured myself one there long before now. Besides, the restaurant opens at 11 a.m. on Sundays, and I’ve only just settled into the bar and ordered juevos rancheros about 20 minutes ago.
But there’s something about being told that you’re not allowed to have something that makes it that much more desirable.
For years, North Carolinians and their puzzled out-of-state guests have wanted to order alcoholic drinks with brunch – as much of the civilized world already does. For as long as I’ve been alive, even after liquor-by-the-drink laws dragged our state, one municipality at a time, into the modern age, the prohibition on serving or selling alcohol before noon on Sunday has remained.
A bill filed last week in the General Assembly proposes to change that.
Senate Bill 155, titled “Economic & Job Growth for NC Distilleries” and nicknamed the “Brunch Bill” would, among other things, allow restaurants to sell alcoholic beverages between 10 a.m. and noon on Sundays, subject to local government approval. The change to the law would affect on-premises sales only, which means you’d still have to wait until noon to get a bottle of wine from the grocery store.
The legislation also would loosen restrictions on the auctioning of alcohol, allow distillers to offer samples at permitted events, and raise the cap on how much distilleries can sell directly to individuals. The bill was filed by Sen. Rick Gunn, a Republican from Alamance County, and seems to have bipartisan support.
Why do this now? Well, it’s not like the state couldn’t use a little good press at the moment. Granted, if this bill passes, it’s not likely to compete with news about certain other troublesome legislation that unfortunately has become synonymous with North Carolina in the national conversation.
But it would offer a sliver of hope to those of us who’d like to be treated as adults capable of making adult decisions between 10 a.m. and noon on Sunday.
The bartenders would like it, too. Brunch is usually a short and lucrative shift. Having an extra hour to serve liquor would put a little more money in their pockets and might ease the pace of things. Perhaps there wouldn’t be such a mad scramble at noon.
What about the conch shell, though?
Joe Farmer, one of the owners of Humble Pie, said he’d love to see the law change, but he’d hate to dispense with the Sunday tradition.
“Maybe we’d blow it anyway, when we open at 11,” he said.
That wouldn’t be quite the same, but I suppose all progress comes with a cost.
Amber Nimocks is a former News & Observer food editor. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.