An Early History of Drinking in Raleigh | New Raleigh
Taverns have played an important role in the history of Wake County. Not only did they host several sessions of county court and a meeting of the General Assembly, but they were used as landmarks to establish the boundaries of Wake County and even the location of the capital of Raleigh. Isaac Hunter’s Tavern was such a well known Wake County watering-hole, that the Constitutional Convention of July 1788 voted to build the new state capital within ten miles of the establishment. In 1792, commissioners decided to purchase land for the future city from Joel Lane, owner of another nearby ordinary. Local legend has it that their decision was influenced by Lane’s ‘cherry bounce,’ a potent drink made of mashed cherries, sugar and aged whiskey or brandy. However, another property owner competing with Lane for the sale of his land probably spread this rumor.
Taverns made history again in 1839 when many citizens became unhappy with the site of Raleigh’s market house and wanted to move it to a new location. So many saloons had opened near the old market house that the area (where Exchange and Market plazas are today) became known as “Grog Alley.” In addition to saloons, Grog Alley also hosted tobacco parlors, gambling rooms, and the occasional purchase of female company. Even with the Wake County Courthouse one block away, Grog Alley was “the scene of much drinking and disorder, of many a fisticuff fight, and occasionally a homicide.”* When the political party in favor of moving the market house won the municipal election of 1840, victorious supporters marched through Grog Alley shouting and carrying torches. This made the owners and guests of the taverns so angry that a blood-filled riot broke out in the street.
For early citizens of Raleigh, taverns were more than just places to buy a drink. They were important community gathering places and sites of entertainment. In the early nineteenth century, traveling shows exhibiting exotic animals (including the first elephant exhibited in Wake) and human entertainers commonly set up near taverns. Taverns also hosted other forms of entertainment and sporting events. For example, New Ruin Tavern in Western Wake County not only hosted regular dancing and gambling, but horse-racing, wrestling matches, cock-fighting and gander-pulling took place nearby.
After the Civil War…