Ah, great things are afoot here in scenic Benton, Ark.
Specifically, there are now three restaurants here in town that sell liquor. I grew up in this town and figured I'd never see such a thing as Saline County has remained dry thanks to years of a combined effort between primarily Baptists and liquor store owners up the road in Pulaski County.
It is not my intention to pick on Baptists. I'll mention more about that in a bit.
At any rate, I figured that we Saline County residents were simply stuck with having to head up to the Pulaski County line to buy alcohol. Thankfully, we can keep some of that money that was going to Little Rock here in Saline County and I'd guess that more restaurants will open here now that they can offer liquor sales and boost those profits.
A couple of years ago, a little restaurant called Dizzy's Grill in Benton got a liquor license and the place has been packed ever since. A few month's ago, Applebee's followed suit and La Hacienda followed suit just this week.
My wife, daughter and I went to La Hacienda tonight and noticed the place was full of people. La Hacienda is one of those locally-owned Mexican restaurants that makes great food and has won an award or two in recognition of the fine cuisine there. The only problem with the place is that business has always been slow.
That wasn't the case tonight, however. There was a crowd in there and the atmosphere was generally festive, thanks to a lot of happy people and a mariachi band that somehow managed to combine "La Bamba" with "Twist and Shout" at one point. Hopefully, the fact that someone can head over there and enjoy a beer with a meal will boost business, help our economy and generally encourage other restaurants to open up here in Benton (we've got about 85,000 people in this county -- it's pitiful that a lot of diners have to head to Little Rock if they want to enjoy the modest pleasure of having a drink with a meal).
By the way, I had a diet Coke with my dinner. I was just happy to see a local establishment doing well tonight and I hope that continues as more people in the mood for a beer after work head to La Hacienda.
I did mention that I wasn't going to pick on Baptists and I meant it. I used to be a Baptist, but converted to Methodist after figuring out I just didn't have a lot in common with my former church (the Baptists may put the fun in fundamentalism, but the denomination just isn't for me).
Regardless, I'd argue that people who dismiss objections about liquor sales from Christian groups such as the Baptists are more than a bit uninformed. Here in the rural South, there was a problem years ago -- men were blowing their paychecks on booze instead of taking care of their families. In that environment, then, it became a social policy of many Baptist churches to stand against that family-destroying practice.
Over time, of course, the anti-alcohol stance of churches became doctrinal to the point that some pastors will tell you that Christ turned water into grape juice instead of wine. That's taking things to the extreme, of course, but it's easy to understand why a good number of Christian groups are still against drinking even in moderation.
I respect that point of view, but I'm glad that we Methodists don't tend to think that way. Saline County is still, unfortunately, dry. However, the fact that some restaurants here can now serve alcohol is a good start. If the day ever comes when liquor stores can open here, we can start keeping all that revenue from alcohol sales in Saline County instead of sending it to Little Rock where it doesn't benefit folks here one bit.