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A city born in a bar 

Historic view of West Martin Street in Raleigh, North Carolina. Picture taken in front of the News & Observer Building. The Raleigh Hotel is on the corner. - PUBLIC DOMAIN VIA ALBERT BARDEN
  • Public domain via Albert Barden
  • Historic view of West Martin Street in Raleigh, North Carolina. Picture taken in front of the News & Observer Building. The Raleigh Hotel is on the corner.

The pro- and anti-sidewalk-drinking camps breathed collective sighs of disapproval on downtown Raleigh again this past week. While restrictions may have been somewhat relaxed, there's a limit to the extent that word—relaxed—can be applied to any restriction. While intake and egress continue to be debated, it is interesting to note that like the recent revitalization efforts, the city of Raleigh was actually born in a bar 223 years ago. Lane's Inn & Tavern, the pale yellow house near the intersection of St Mary's and Hargett, was built in 1769 by the city's father, Joel Lane—assemblyman, farmer, justice of the peace, colonial militia colonel, sometime bartender.

In the 1760s, North Carolina had its own precursor to the American Revolution, the War of the Regulation. Taxes and titles were paid in ways that bred corruption, and courts and any semblance of law were remote. Redress was limited to petitioning the colonial governor, Lord Tryon, who was too busy building his mansion with said tax revenue. At the center of the corruption was Tryon's close friend, the lawyer Edmund Fanning; at the helm of the resistance, the self-styled "Regulators," was a Quaker named Herman Husband.Years of contention came to a roiling boil in 1770, and two riots occurred in Hillsborough, during which Fanning was beaten, his house vandalized and his wine and rum appropriated and drunk. (That same year, Lane proposed that a newly formed county be named Wake, in honor of Tryon's wife, Margaret Wake Tryon.)

In January 1771, Tryon's colonial assembly passed The Johnston Riot Act, interpreted by some to be retroactively applied to the riots of the previous fall.

The month after the Riot Act, Husband lodged at Lane's inn, where he penned a pamphlet decrying the unfair application of law. The following month, Tryon stayed at Lane's inn on his way to the Battle of Alamance to put down the Regulator "insurrection." Lane, friend to the Regulators and later a Patriot, was still a colonel in Tryon's army, and was ordered to keep his militia company in place to keep the peace during the Battle of Alamance.

In the end, 6,000 Regulators were coerced into signing an oath of loyalty, 12 were convicted of treason and six were hanged, one without trial. Husband was exiled, and Tryon was promoted to governor of New York (and took Fanning with him). But Lane was still walking a fine line between loyalty and revolt.

The influence of the War of the Regulation on the War of American Independence is debated. Consider, however, that North Carolina was the first colony to declare independence from Great Britain, but the last to ratify the Declaration. The reluctance to sign hinged upon the creation of a bill of rights. Ex-post-facto law, taxes, corruption and lack of redress were cited by many of the same men, from the War of the Regulation to the revolution, who wrote and discussed these things—in a bar.

Postwar, Lane continued his role as legislator, landowner and barkeep. The Legislature was an itinerant body, often meeting at taverns, until it was proposed that a permanent seat be created within 10 miles of Isaac Hunter's Tavern (no, not the Fayetteville Street one that closed a year ago, but its 18th-century namesake).

The location of the new capital had been narrowed to a handful of potential sites, with Hunter's being the favorite. The legislators met one night at Joel Lane's Tavern, where, as one story goes, he plied them with North Carolina's official cocktail, "Cherry Bounce," and the next morning it was decided that Lane's land would become the capital site. Lane sold 1,000 acres to the state for that purpose, making Raleigh, founded in 1792, one of the few planned cities of its kind in America.

Raleigh, the city conceived in a bar, has lately become the taproom for the brawl between City Council members, downtown residents, business owners and restaurant and bar goers. At last week's Council meeting, a deputy police chief reported that arrests had gone down since the restrictions were put in place. But then they generally do: Fewer people equals less crime, but also less revenue. Downtown neighborhoods from Lane's Bloomsbury to Lane Street depended upon bars and restaurants for their resurgence. Is the same source of injected income the one we're so eager to overregulate?

Personally, I'm enjoying imagining Joel Lane and Isaac Hunter sitting outside downtown—after paying to park, of course—tipping back a Cherry Bounce and discussing the latest vote, behind a cordon rope with precisely 15 square feet between them.

This article appeared in print with the headline "You can fight City Hall"

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