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The Holdouts: Dry Towns in Otherwise Wet States

There are around 500 towns in America where alcohol is banned on some level, but these communities are the most unexpected of the bunch

Believe it or not, there are a lot of dry towns still left in America—about 500 of them to be exact. Most of them are found in the Deep South, the Midwest and the Rust Belt, where many traditional Christian communities shaped the laws that still exist today.

But occasionally, you’ll find an unexpected, middle-of-nowhere dry town in states that are otherwise happy to serve you a drink. A random town in New York; a church community in a Chicago suburb; a Martha’s Vineyard town that won’t cave to peer pressure; there are many places you wouldn’t expect to be dry given their surroundings, but they are, and many have even held recent referendums to continue upholding these laws.

So here they are: America’s most isolated and unexpected dry towns (and if you happen to get stuck in one on a wayward road trip, we’ve included where you can get the closest fix of that sweet, sweet hooch. You’re welcome.)

Orwell, New York
There are eight towns in the state of New York where you can’t get yourself a drink, but most of them are near the border of Pennsylvania, which has a lot of strict laws around alcohol. The town of Orwell, however, is just east of Lake Ontario, and is the only dry town in the region. When looking into the history of the alcohol ban for a Syracuse news site, Orwell town historian Rose Graham couldn’t trace the exact year of the alcohol ban, but it was sometime in the 1840s, well before prohibition began in 1920 with the passage of the 18th amendment. When prohibition was repealed in 1933 thanks to the 21st amendment, it was the Women’s Christian Temperance Union who helped to keep the town of Orwell booze-free.

It doesn’t seem like many people are in a hurry to get alcohol in the town either, as there isn’t even a store in the town to sell it. Three separate referendums to introduce alcohol failed in 1971, 1985 and 1998, so residents just head to nearby Pulaski, just seven miles to the west, to pick up their supply. The closest bar to Orwell is also in Pulaski, and goes by the name Ma Barker’s Tavern. According to one Facebook reviewer, Ma Barker’s is “only the best place on earth,” which in fairness, it probably is if you grew up in a dry town.

Panaca, Nevada
If you want to find the Nevada town that is the most opposite of Las Vegas, check out Panaca, which allows no drinking and no gambling (though their town market does have a nice selection of local honey, so they’ve got that going for them). Founded in 1864 as a Mormon colony, Panaca was originally part of Utah, but congressional redrawing in 1866 pushed the town into Nevada. Still a Mormon community today, Panaca has never allowed drinking, meaning it’s now the only teetotaling town in Nevada. (Interestingly, in Utah, despite the dense Mormon population, no town is dry because no local law can conflict with a state law, so alcohol is permitted everywhere.)

The nearest bar to Panaca is the Shamrock Pub, which is 15 miles to the south in Caliente. At “The Shammy” (as one local called it), you can get a good draft beer and play a round of pool in a friendly local hangout. One Yelp reviewer did complain about a deficit of pickled eggs being served, though, so be aware of that.

Pine Ridge, North Dakota
The town of Pine Ridge is located within an Oglala Lakota Native American reservation. Since its founding in 1889 it’s been a dry town—as are many towns within Native Reservations, since there’s a long and complicated history surrounding Native American communities and alcohol that stems all the way back to early colonial America.

To briefly recap: While alcohol existed in low concentrations before the arrival of Europeans, when hard spirits first crossed the Atlantic, their distribution to the indigenous population would vary depending on how it benefited the white settlers: Sometimes it was banned so that the Indians would make for better workers (which would lead to it being sold to them on the black market instead), while other times it was permitted, but without giving the native populations any true means to regulate it. The eventual upshot was a number of problems around alcohol addiction that persist to this day: Alcohol-related deaths among Native Americans are four times as common as for the general U.S. population, while fetal alcohol syndrome and alcohol abuse are more widespread in these communities than in any other ethnic group.

The problems aren’t all historical, either, and for the citizens of Pine Ridge, exploitation certainly didn’t stop in colonial times. When the reservation was originally founded in 1889, it was surrounded by a 50-mile buffer zone that banned alcohol sales to try to prevent smuggling into the reservation, but in 1904, that buffer was reduced to a single mile. Soon a trading post was set up right at the borderline in a tiny town that would become known as Whiteclay, Nebraska.

Up until recently, Whiteclay served as a destination for the sole purpose of getting alcohol to the residents of Pine Ridge. With a population of just 14 people but four liquor stores, Whiteclay was notorious for public drunkeness and laws that were basically nonexistent due to a complete absence of a police force. For decades, the alcohol from Whiteclay plagued the people of Pine Ridge, a situation that only came to an end last year when the Nebraska Supreme Court revoked the licenses for all four liquor stores (hey, it only took them, like, 114 years to get around to it).

For the sake of consistency, the nearest place to Pine Ridge to get a drink is the Horseshoe Bar and Grill about four miles northeast in Interior, South Dakota. But considering the history, if you do find yourself there, maybe consider staying sober and checking out Badlands National Park instead.

Chilmark, Massachusetts
One would assume that if you’re on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, you’d be able to get wine wherever you damn well please, but not so for the town of Chilmark. Following the repeal of prohibition, many towns in Massachusetts opted to stay dry, but eventually caved for financial reasons. Because a neighboring town may sell alcohol, all someone would have to do is hop in a car and go get some, and all of the tax revenue from that would end up in the other town. So, when towns were in financial straits, they’d change the law.

Chilmark, however, is still holding out, and it’s the very last town on Martha’s Vineyard to do so. Having been a dry town for more than 300 years, a little something like the 21st amendment wasn’t going to break their sober streak, and even as recently as last year residents voted down a proposal to change things.

If you’re in the town of Chilmark, you may find an establishment named the Chilmark Tavern, but you can’t actually buy any alcohol there. In a plea to change the law, Chilmark Tavern proprietor Jenna Petersiel explained to the MV Times that “Chilmark is not a dry town, it’s a BYOB town,” as her business operates by mixing drinks for patrons who have brought in alcohol from neighboring communities. However, if you’re not into DIY to get your drink on, you’ll want to check out the beautifully located Aquinnah Shop Restaurant, six miles to the West in Aquinnah, Massachusetts.

Lynchburg, Tennessee
Dry towns in Tennessee are a dime-a-dozen, but what makes Lynchburg unique is that it’s the home of the most famous whiskey brand in America: Jack Daniels. Founded in 1875, Jack Daniels was forced to shut down his distillery in 1910 when Tennessee went completely dry. Tennessee would even remain dry after national prohibition’s repeal in 1933, but the distillery reopened in 1937 thanks to the efforts of Daniels’ nephew Lem Motlow, who inherited the distillery when Daniels died in 1911. Motlow was a state senator who successfully led the fight to resume alcohol production in the state, meaning that Jack Daniels the whiskey picked up right where it left off 27 years earlier.

Nowadays, the only place in Lynchburg where you can get any alcohol is in the distillery itself: Thanks to a rather convenient loophole, you can buy a bottle of whiskey from the gift shop. Technically speaking though, you’re just buying the commemorative bottle—the booze is free.

Saddle River, New Jersey
Dry towns in New Jersey are quite common, as its Quaker and Protestant roots run deep. When prohibition was repealed, much of Jersey opted to stay dry, and only through referendums could they change things. Most dry towns in the state are from the middle of the state and downward, but the little affluent town of Saddle River is the last in northern Jersey to still ban alcohol.

To find the nearest “wet” location, you won’t have to go far—just head two miles southwest to Restaurant L, where you can grab a drink or even join their wine club.

South Holland, Illinois
The last dry town left in Illinois is the Chicago suburb of South Holland, which has opted to stay dry since prohibition. Founded by Dutch reformed immigrants, the town’s motto is “A Community of Churches,” and it holds its moral character in high regard. In addition to banning the hard stuff, they’ve also worked to dampen down other hard things through the banning of pornography.

If you’re looking for a drink, head four miles west to nearby Harvey, Illinois, to check out Sugababyyy’s Sports Bar & Grill. If you’re on the lookout for porn, well, you have a phone, don’t you?

Kaktovik, Alaska
Dry towns in Alaska are common, especially in places where there’s a primarily Inuit population, but as far as isolated dry towns go, Kaktovik is about as isolated as isolated can get. Located on Barter Island, which is just north of the mainland, Kaktovik has no roads leading to it and is only accessible by airplane. It banned not just the sale of alcohol, but its possession as well, and if you’re caught with the stuff, you could end up spending a year in jail.

If you’re fixing for a drink while hanging out there, you’ve got quite a journey ahead of you. You’ll have to head to its small airport and wait for a flight from Ravn Airlines, which leaves once a day during weekdays. You’ll drop around $300 and fly for about 95 minutes. Once you arrive in the Fairbanks airport, a drink is conveniently located right in the terminal at The Bush Pilot Lounge.

Drytown, California
The name of this town might scare you off, but don’t let it discourage you—there’s plenty to drink in Drytown. Named for a creek that ran dry during the winter, Drytown was a bustling gold rush town in its heyday, with 10,000 residents and 26 saloons. In fact, its heavy drinking and violence between miners inspired many Californians to push for prohibition in the first place.

Nowadays Drytown is home to just 200 people. You can still get a drink, though—just head to the Drytown Club, which has been proudly getting people drunk since 1856.