Editor’s Note: By reading this article, you agree that you’re of legal age.
I came of legal drinking age in Blount County, not far from Townsend or the Sevier County line.
We were a dry county – no beer or alcohol sales – but I don’t remember anyone who wanted a drink having a hard time finding one.
The nearest place to purchase beer or alcohol was just across the Knox County line in the tiny community of Vestal, which is maybe the most onomatopoeically correct town name I’ve ever run across.
Picture a Vestal in your mind.
Yep. That’s it. Nailed it.
In fact, the Knox–Blount border was heavy with liquor stores and strip clubs which, I think, highlighted the ineffectiveness of the laws.
Is Gatlinburg dry? (Yes, sort of)
Over time those laws changed, often in piecemeal fashion that left weird loopholes until local leaders swept in and cleaned up the codes and ordinances.
Such was the case in nearby Sevier County, with multiple municipalities and county governments each developing its own version of alcohol-related ordinances.
This was only further complicated by the arrival of legal moonshine distilleries that changed not only the face of liquor sales in the region, but the flow of tourist money.
A clerk at a Sevierville grocery store explained it best when I asked if they have beer and wine.
Welcome to Sevier County: ‘We’re damp’
“Yes,” she said, “but nothing else … we’re not dry but we’re not fully wet, either. We’re moist. We’re damp.”
Somebody design the postcards.
I printed out the codes governing alcohol for the three major tourism municipalities in Sevier County. They are not damp. They’re not moist. They’re dry. Bone dry. Boring legal mumbo jumbo designed to keep lawyers employed.
They’re full of clauses that use phrases like “moral turpitude” based on the 1976 version of the concept as outlined by the Tennessee Code Annotated.
We’re not going to try and parse all that. I’m going to try to break it down in a way that won’t drive you or me to drinking before we finish this thing.
Let’s break it down, Q & A style:
Can you buy alcohol in Gatlinburg?
Yes. Yes, you can. Tourism is too big a business for Sevier County to have remained dry.
Restaurants make money on drinks, patrons frequently want drinks with their meal … it’s a no brainer.
Where can you buy beer in Gatlinburg?
In the words of Willy Wonka, “simply look around and view it.” Grocery stores, markets, restaurants, gas stations, tobacco stores, any place that typically sells beer or wine where you live will likely partake.
Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg all allow establishments, barring failings of moral turpitude, to serve beer and wine with meals.
The fact is, if you want a beer or bottle of wine in Sevier County, you won’t have to drive too far to get it.
Can you buy alcohol in Gatlinburg?
Yes, and here’s where it gets fun. If you’re serious about drinking some liquor, as in, you need a package store so you can stock your cabin for a big to-do, get yourself to Gatlinburg.
Sevierville may be moist, and Pigeon Forge may be damp, but you can dang near swim in Gatlinburg.
Pigeon Forge restaurants may serve liquor by the drink. You’ll get no liquor in Sevierville.
But there are always exceptions.
What about the moonshine distilleries?
Abandon all logic ye who enter here. Honestly, the closest thing I can think of is it’s like duty free in an international airport, but with liquor instead of taxes.
Go 100 yards down the concourse, you’re paying taxes on everything. But duty free? Laws do not apply.
For example, the Tennessee Legends Distillery has two locations in Sevierville, including one on Winfield Dunn Parkway. They sell Hammershine moonshine that’s 120 proof as well as house brands of whiskey, vodka, liquor and rum.
You can’t buy packaged liquor in Pigeon Forge or Sevierville, except at distilleries, where you can even sample the stuff before you buy.
So if you don’t need a lot of variety or specialty liquors, or you don’t want to battle traffic to get to Gatlinburg, one of the roughly 7,500 distilleries in Sevier County just might do the trick.
Can you buy alcohol on Sunday?
In the unincorporated parts of Sevier County, beer and wine can be sold from 6 am to 12 pm Monday through Saturday. Sunday is dry.
Packaged liquor may be sold Monday through Saturday from 8 am until 11 pm, but only as mentioned above by the distilleries.
Each of the municipalities has its own laws governing times when alcohol by the drink, packaged alcohol, packaged liquor and liquor by the drink can be sold.
Why is this so complicated?
It’s all the vagaries of small town politics. It’s the political and religious leanings of the powers that be who have made the laws over the years.
It’s also a competition for tourism dollars. It’s the way the tourism business has expanded beyond the borders of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge into Sevierville.
I assumed once the distilleries came through, the local government would concede to the inevitable and consolidate the liquor laws.
It makes no sense for a restaurant in the Tanger Mall in Sevierville to have to operate under different rules than one a half mile down the road in Pigeon Forge.
Is it really OK to sell 120 proof moonshine, vodka and rum at a distillery while other businesses are governed by a different set of laws?
How do the other specialty stores factor into this?
That’s a story for another day.
However you buy your alcohol, remember to drink responsibly. We hope this guide has been helpful on your journey to the Smoky Mountains.
For more information, visit tv.gov. Have you ever had trouble buying alcohol in the Smokies? Let us know in the comments.