History & Boundaries of the Dry Area
For the first time since it was enacted 104 years ago, the Houston Heights ban on alcohol sales is up for a vote in November. The Houston Heights' “dry” ordinance, which banned the sale of alcoholic beverages in large portions of the community, was passed on September 25, 1912. The ordinance remains in effect today but if an effort to abolish part of the provision is successful, sales for off-site consumption of liquor will once again be legal in the Heights.
Before the Houston Heights was annexed by the City of Houston in 1918, Heights Mayor David Barker pushed to have the many saloons that were popping up on 19th Street (the neighborhood’s commercial area) abolished. The issue of alcohol sales wasn’t considered a morality issue, according to Sister Mary Agatha, an Incarnate Word teacher, who wrote a book on the history of the Heights neighborhood she grew up in. The residents of the Heights were interested in protecting their property values and saw the ban as a means to do that.
Perhaps the most famous, or infamous, tale of the early Heights saloon escapades was the story of Jennie Yon Yon, a performing monkey. It seems Jennie Yon Yon was regular entertainment on Sunday afternoons when she took flight in a hot air balloon. In homage to the legend, local pub Down House located on Yale, which is allowed to sell spirits as a “private club”, has specialty drinks named for Mayor Barker and Jennie Yon Jon.
Despite the end of Prohibition, the Heights remained dry. Because it had been annexed by Houston, many thought the repeal of prohibition in 1933 would apply to the Heights but that wasn’t the case. The legal questions surrounding this issue were not settled until 1937, when the Texas Supreme Court ruled the Heights was dry and would stay dry until those living within the neighborhood’s original boundaries voted to allow the sale of alcohol. Heights residents have never even had a vote on the issue. Until now.
Like Down House, several other restaurants have opened in the dry area and serve spirits if you join their “private club”, which essentially consists of showing your driver’s license and the establishment recording you as a member. It’s a work-around that’s been successful, and some residents see it as a way to discourage some of the bigger restaurant chains from coming into the neighborhood.