A Bloody Mary made history yesterday when a part-time waiter sipped the first legally served mixed drink in North Carolina in 70 years.

"I think I might just put this on my mantle," said Hank Stoppelbein, who quickly emptied his glass at Benedictine's restaurant at 8:04 a.m. "It's history, right there along with George Washington crossing the Delaware."

Charlotte and surrounding Mecklenburg County became the first North Carolina locality to legally serve mixed drinks since such sales were outlawed by a statewide referendum in 1908. The General Assembly approved the local-option measure in June and Mecklenburg County, the largest in the state about 400,000 residents, was first to vote to allow sale of mixed drinks.

Some of the 96 newly licensed restaurants and hotels reported a booming business as spirited patrons bellied up to bars to imbibe drink after drink in celebration.

"It's like New Year's on Nov. 21," said Dee Atkins, manager of The Chateau, which bought about 20 cases of liquor for $2,200. "It's a whole new experience."

Eight trucks fanned out across the county at 7:30 a.m. carrying the first loads of several thousand cases of booze worth $198,366. Each truck was accompanied by an armed guard in a separate car and, in some cases, dozens of reporters.

Most reporters seeking the historic first drink missed Stoppelbein's feat, however, as they waited at The Mandala Restaurant, the first establishment to get it bottles, 569 of them, costing $5,470.

Bill Norris, a truck salesman, entered The Mandala after he heard on the radio that the first drink would be sold there at 8 a.m. The bartender wasn't on time, however, so Norris didn't get his drink until 8:15.

"Charlotte and North Carolina have been in the Dark Ages as far liquor goes," Norris told 18 reporters, photographers and television technicians. "It's pathetic . . . This is one small step for North Carolina." Norris raised his glass of 7-Up and Seagrams 7 with a shaking hand. "I'm proud to be the first," he said, sipping. "It's a little bit strong for breakfast but it's ok."

Hundreds of people crowded The Open Kitchen because owner Steve Kokenes had promised to sell mixed drinks for 5 cents until his five cases of alcohol were gone.

"This is history, history in the making," said Nancy Cox, sipping her first nickel highball. Johnnie Bishop, a former Florida bartender, took a stoic view of the hundreds of drink orders that backlogged her tiny bar. "They can't very well complain, for a nickel," she said.

Johnnie Bishop, a former Florida bartender, took a stoic view of the hundreds of drink orders that backlogged her tiny bar. "They can't very well complain, for a nickel," she said.

Promoters of the mixed-drink referendum said they enjoyed watching the fruits of their labor. Bill Veeder, head of the Greater Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, had his first Bloody Mary at 9:30 a.m. "I've got the glass and the money I used to pay for my drink," Veeder said. "I traded it back for some other money and got it autographed, so I got the money and the glass. I'm delighted."

Before the local option was approved, drinkers had to settle for beer or wine, or brown-bagging, in which they carried their bottle in a bag and poured their own drinks for a fee.

The Rev. Coy Privette, a Baptist minister and the leader of the opposition to serving mixed drinks, lambasted the liquor and its sellers. "It is a sad day for North Carolina that we have allowed the profiteers to convince us that the merchandising of liquor is the key to economic development," Privette said. "Instead, we should be seeking to promote ideals that would result in sound moral principles, clarity of minds, purity of body and responsible social actions."

At least one imbiber, Adele Lever, thought her second screwdriver of the morning might reach some of the same ends.

"I drink a lot of these because of the orange juice," she explained. "You know, Vitamin C, health food. "It's good for you."