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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Drinking in Danville

It’s hard to believe that there are still parts of the U.S. that don’t sell alcohol, particularly in states like Kentucky, which produces the lion’s share of America’s whiskey. But if you happen to be heading to Kentucky’s bourbon country (especially with the Kentucky Bourbon Festival happening next month), you’ll find one less dry town. Venture off the beaten path and take a mini detour down to Danville, a quaint 16,000-person enclave conveniently situated less than an hour from the distilleries that dot the route from Lexington to Louisville. Danville is one of a handful of recent Kentucky towns to leave its dry roots behind in favor of a “wet” designation, yet it sits smack in the middle of what is still a dry county. Last year, the town voted with 57% in favor of allowing the sale of alcohol through restaurants and stores, and since opening the spirited gates, bars, breweries and bottle shops have been flowing in, and with them bringing more than 60 new jobs and hundreds of thousands of dollars in local tax revenue. “The vote had an instant impact,” says executive director of Danville’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau Adam Johnson. “It has greatly added to our tourism while giving locals another reason to stay close to home.”

Among the first to jump on the opportunity was Beer Engine, which offers a dozen rotating taps pouring a mix of house-brewed favorites and pints from craft brewers around the country, and V The Market, which boasts an incredible selection of bourbons (naturally), as well as more than 250 craft beers and wines, cheeses, and chocolates from around the world. According to Johnson, there are two more liquor-licensed businesses in the works, including a cocktail bar and a new restaurant, and though that puts Danville at its six-license quota with the liquor board, he says if demand remains high, the town could be awarded several more licenses over the next few years.

There are still nearly 40 dry counties in the state of Kentucky, but Johnson hopes Danville’s success will inspire other towns in the state to follow their lead. “Kentucky is a fantastic travel destination,” says Johnson, “and ultimately the dry vs. wet option can become about more than just drinking—it can be about historic preservation, economic development and entrepreneurship.”