In 1979, New York City banned open containers from its streets in an attempt to decrease street crime. The law was initially designed to curb petty crimes committed by groups of wine-drinking men, but anyone trying to enjoy a Budweiser in Central Park today is likely to end up getting fined. And the NYPD’s vigilance is hardly unusual. Over the last century, so many states and cities have banned public drinking that many Americans have never enjoyed the simple pleasure of taking their beer for a walk. Now, a group of small cities is pushing back, working to legalize open containers in an attempt to attract travelers who don’t want to bar hop so much as they want to hang out.
Erie, Pennsylvania and Mobile, Alabama have moved to ditch open container laws in favor of creating a more welcoming environment for drinkers and small businesses. Locals in Bigfork, Montana are hoping to do the same soon and a state senator in Ohio is actively lobbying to create public drinking zones in Cleveland and Columbus. The idea is to create nightlife-friendly neighborhoods and allow bars and restaurants to work together to attract crowds. No one wants out-of-towners to party harder, but an increasing number of legislators would like to see them party out in the open.
The list of great cities for public drinking remains short, but that’s likely to change as their experiments in outdoor drinking provide models for other communities. Here are some great spots where you can enjoy your beer in public.
Butte, Montana: Like Georgia, Montana has no statewide open container laws, meaning the legislation is up to individual municipalities. The good folks of Butte opted out for years, embracing the city’s wild west reputation. Today, open containers are banned only between 2 am and 8 am. On any given night, Evel Knievel’s home town is filled with cowboys toting six packs, but the scene is surprisingly civilized – except on St. Patrick’s Day.
Hood River, Oregon: A short drive away from Mount Hood, the beautiful town of Hood River sits – slightly confusingly – on the Columbia River. A major destination for kite surfers, kayakers, and stand-up paddle boarders, the town takes advantage of its lenient laws during Hops Fest, an annual celebration of all things beer that spills out into the streets.
Savannah, Georgia: One of the south’s most elegant cities has no open container laws at all. Buying a southern craft beer at The Distillery and enjoying it in Johnson Square park is a local pastime. We recommend the 12% ABV North Coast Old Stock.
Treasure Island, Florida: This small and scenic town on the Gulf of Mexico had no container laws until recently. Today, you’re allowed to drink openly everywhere during the week, but have to avoid the main beach on weekends and holidays. Babe Ruth retired here, so public drunkenness has obviously been an issue — albeit not a particularly serious one. Buy a cold one and some crab cakes at R Bar and enjoy a walk around the hopping downtown area.