Posts Tagged ‘Prohibition’

December 15th, 2010

I drank Repeal Day

When Prohibition was repealed on December 5, 1933, do you think people gathered in cocktail bars and discussed the finer points of a 2:1 gin Martini? No. They grabbed hold of whatever wretched rotgut was most accessible and poured it down their gullets with wild abandon. I was merely reenacting that moment, then, when I went to the Washington D.C. Repeal Day Ball, sucked down Kamikazes in the ’80s Room and danced on the shoulders of Eastern Standard’s assistant bar manager.

I was fortunate to be invited down to the Capitol that weekend by the D.C. Craft Bartenders Guild, which throws the annual bash, and Melanie Asher of Macchu Pisco, a boutique producer of Peru’s storied grape spirit. Together, they hosted an 11-person Boston contingent that also included Kevin Martin (above), Jackson Cannon and Nicole Lebedevitch of Eastern Standard; Brother Cleve, who programmed the tunes for the event’s Tiki, ’60s and Prohibition rooms; Misty Kalkofen of Drink; Alex Homans of Russell House Tavern; April Wachtel of The Gallows; Robert Hoover of Upstairs on the Square; Corey Bunnewith of the Citizen Pub; and Liza Weisstuch, freelance drinks writer extraordinaire.

The ball was set up like a swanky house party in the Maison Biltmore, with seven differently themed rooms for our cocktail pleasure: 1800s/Punch, Highballs, 1920s/Prohibition, 1960s/Mad Men, Tiki, 1980s and the Future. (In the future, apparently, we will enjoy Rum & Coke Foam and Blue Hawaiis solidified into those little dot candies you peel off of paper.) Attendees donned their finest vintage threads and partied well into the night. D.C.’s top ‘tenders and a few of their Philly brethren, plus celeb mixologists from around the nation, put their skills on display. Then there was an afterparty with even more punch in a massive space that seemed to suddenly materialize in the back of the Passenger.

Amazingly, all but the few Bostonians who had to depart early rallied, bleary eyed, on Sunday to join Garrett Peck’s illuminating Temperance Tour of Washington D.C. After the tour, Peck, who recently wrote The Prohibition Hangover, joined us for patties and Yuengling at the Burger Joint. Next, our group livened up a Sunday evening at Brasserie Beck by depleting its menu of Belgian beers, following that with a last call of Macchu Pisco Sours back at the Passenger. Phew! Here are some pics.

Not just a tux, but a tux with tails. Jackson Cannon working the Highball Room. “Let me put you into a Mamie Taylor.”

Who else but a top-hatted David Wondrich would be working the Punch Room? Seen here with his just-published book Punch: the Delights and Dangers of the Flowing Bowl, serving a hot potion out of a vintage, early-1800s Crock Pot.

The fabulously flapperesque Phoebe Isabelle Esmon of Philadelphia serves bathtub punch in the Prohibition Room. If you’re in Philly, go see her at Catahoula Bar & Restaurant.

Misty Kalkofen lounges with Brother Cleve as he spins exotica in the Tiki Room. If I had to pick the evening’s winning room… (then again, see top photo).

Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, the apostle who introduced us all to the Gospel of Tiki, serves delicious ’40s-era potions in the Tiki Room. Do I remember what they were? No. But they were delicious.

Corey Bunnewith, April Wachtel and Kevin Martin made the ’80s Room theirs. Seriously, ask them about it sometime.

The next day, we got some learnin’ in. Garrett Peck begins his Temperance Tour on a blustery day in front of D.C.’s Temperance fountain, of which there were once 50 nationwide.

And since it was Sunday, we went to church. The famed Calvary Baptist Church, that is. It’s where the Anti-Saloon League, which wrote the book on pressure politics, had its first national convention in 1895. Those poor souls. The presence of our group of bartenders, hungover from celebrating the anniversary of Repeal Day, surely had them rolling in their dry graves.

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Posted in D.C., Events | 4 Comments »

May 2nd, 2010

Nips – 5/2/10

clio-menuA friend of mine told me that an old flame put the moves on him recently after plying him with drinks. Acknowledging the futility of the attempt to rekindle, the old flame apologized for her brazenness. But she offered this excellent excuse: “It’s spring, and I’m a mammal.”

Well, it’s spring, and I’m a blogger. So here’s some link love…

» LUPEC Boston reviews Todd Maul’s new bar menu at Clio, which leaves all previous bar menus at Clio in the dust.  “The 80-plus drinks … run the gamut,” say the Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails, “from aperitifs ($9) to drinks for two ($25) to tiki drinks & daiquiris ($13), and feature a blend of pre-Prohibition and modern classics.” Many of the offerings are designed to pair nicely with the raw delights at Uni, the sushi bar adjacent to the Clio bar.

» Speaking of tiki drinks … doesn’t the balmy spring weather make you thirsty for the serious Donn Beach/Trader Vic-style versions of these rum-tastic cocktails? Sure, you can get them on demand at Drink, Eastern Standard and now, of course, Clio, among a smattering of other spots. But could somebody open up a REAL tiki bar in Boston, already? This city was once a tiki mecca, and, well, how ’bout sprucing up down-on-its-luck Downtown Crossing with a ridiculously fun bar? Silvertone and Stoddard’s (yes, it’s finally open!) can’t do it all by themselves. Sheesh.

» Speaking of LUPEC Boston and new joints, one of the Ladies, Jane Robertson (aka Pinky Gonzales), does an astute write-up of Harvard Square’s new Russell House Tavern for Joonbug (which reviewed drinkboston’s Bartenders on the Rise event not long ago). She pretty much echoes drinkboston’s first impressions of the place: it’s got some baggage to overcome, but its bright spots — including the cocktail list and the horseshoe-shaped, marble bar downstairs — make us root for the place.

» Congrats to these talented barmen and women — who work in some of drinkboston’s fave joints — for making the Improper Bostonian magazine’s long-running Boston’s Beloved Bartenders list: Trina Sturm of Trina’s Starlite Lounge, Scott Marshall of Drink, Corey Bunnewith of Coppa and Ned Greene of Hungry Mother.

» Dan Okrent, whose Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition was recently reviewed on drinkboston, will talk about his book at an open-to-the-public lecture at the Boston Athenaeum on May 27. So much material here for us history-minded imbibers — reserve your seat starting May 14. And by the way, yours truly will be serving a Prohibition-era cocktail at the post-lecture reception (which also features wine, beer and cheese from Capone Foods).

» Speaking of alcohol, history and lectures, I’m also attending Boston Beer: a History with Michael Reiskind at the Boston Public Library on May 12. Oh, and speaking of beer, don’t forget that the annual American Craft Beer Fest is coming up at the Seaport World Trade Center June 18-19.

dean-martin-highball» If you like to drive your car to Boston-area bars but don’t want to risk a DUI (or worse) on your way home, Boston’s Designated Driver is a good service to know about. I haven’t tried it out yet and would love to hear from anyone who has — leave a comment, will you?

» Hey, did you know that drinkboston and Trina’s Starlite Lounge are having a Highballs party on Sunday, May 9? Reserve your ticket at 617-576-0006 or and come party like it’s 1965. See you there!

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Posted in Bartenders, Beer, Booze in the news, Boston bars, Nips | 10 Comments »

April 25th, 2010

Probing Prohibition


By Scott N. Howe

It was, of course, a stupid idea.

The 18th Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibited the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors” in the U.S., expanded government involvement in the lives of citizens and turned millions of regular folks who just wanted a beer into criminals. The amendment, and the Volstead Act that enforced it, also led to an explosion in organized crime, encouraged legitimate businesses to circumvent the law, and subjected the United States to the ridicule of many throughout the world. Winston Churchill called Prohibition “an affront to the whole history of mankind.”

Today, it seems amazing that it happened at all, but Daniel Okrent’s new book, Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, makes as much sense of the era as can be made. The book illuminates the social and political factors that led to Prohibition’s passage in 1919. The women’s suffrage movement, mixed with anti-immigrant sentiment and shaken vigorously with righteous, saloon-hating religious elements, created a potent cocktail that intoxicated just enough congressmen and state legislators to enshrine the 18th Amendment into the Constitution.

Last Call humanizes Prohibition, discussing many individuals who made their names on both the “wet” and “dry” sides of the issue — people like Al Capone, Billy Sunday, H.L. Mencken, William Jennings Bryan, Carrie Nation, Susan B. Anthony, and Sam Bronfman – the Canadian bootlegger who went on to run the Seagram’s empire. Okrent also re-introduces several long-forgotten figures who played important roles during the era, including the Anti-Saloon League’s Wayne Wheeler, a political operative Okrent compares to Karl Rove, and Assistant Attorney General Mabel Willebrandt, arguably the most famous and powerful woman in America during the 1920s.

Drinkboston readers will find plenty of local angles in Last Call. For example, the book examines the work of Dorchester’s Mary Hanchett Hunt, who brought temperance education to millions of American school kids in the late 1800s and even established a “Scientific Temperance Museum” at her home on Trull Street. You’ll also find a detailed look at how bootleggers along the East Coast’s “Rum Row” brought booze to New England during the ‘20s, as well as a convincing argument that Joseph P. Kennedy was not, in fact, a bootlegger.

Those looking for a rollicking ride through the Roaring ’20s, however, may be disappointed in Last Call. Yes, you’ll find flirty flappers, charmingly corrupt politicians, saucy speakeasies, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and even Elliott Ness’s “Untouchables.” Mostly, however, you’ll find a sober (sorry) look at a twisted time in American history. So sober, in fact, that Okrent includes the entire text of the U.S. Constitution in the book’s appendix. That’s because Last Call isn’t about what happens when you take a drink, it’s about what happens when the law takes that drink away.

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Posted in Books & resources | No Comments »

March 13th, 2010

Little known facts about Prohibition


Anyone out there know if there’s a good college class on Prohibition? I would sign up for it. There is so much interesting stuff about big-P Prohibition (1919-1933) and various small-P prohibitions that just isn’t part of Americans’ knowledge of history (OK, there’s a lot lacking in Americans’ knowledge of history, but I’ll let another blogger tackle that). I did not know, for instance, until I read The Chemist’s War in Slate that there was a federal program to poison alcohol.

“Frustrated that people continued to consume so much alcohol even after it was banned, federal officials had decided to try a different kind of enforcement. They ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols manufactured in the United States, products regularly stolen by bootleggers and resold as drinkable spirits. The idea was to scare people into giving up illicit drinking. Instead, by the time Prohibition ended in 1933, the federal poisoning program, by some estimates, had killed at least 10,000 people,” writes Deborah Blum. If it’s even close to being accurate, that number’s astonishing.

Prohibition-era President Calvin Coolidge, who had already, as governor of Massachusetts, made a name for himself by cracking down on striking Boston cops, showed his characteristic zeal for maintaining law and order by turning to “chemistry as an enforcement tool.” Wow, way to go, Silent Cal. Imagine if that sort of zeal was ever applied to enforcing regulations governing high finance… Ah, well. Then as now.

Equally as fascinating as the dark episode above: We think of Massachusetts as a pioneer in everything from establishing the New World to declaring independence from the Old World to letting gay people marry to mandating universal health insurance. But few people know that the Bay State was also a pioneer in prohibition. According to Perry R. Duis’ study The Saloon: Public Drinking in Chicago and Boston, 1880-1920, Massachusetts was the first to enact statewide prohibition, which, except for the years 1868 and 1871-3, lasted from 1852 to 1875. Of course, we had about as much success with our own noble experiment as the entire nation did some decades later. Duis writes:

“The wets claimed that arrests for drunkenness had not really declined as dramatically as citizens had earlier believed. Alcohol was obviously being produced or imported, and a secret distribution system placed it in the hands of thousands of drinkers… Charity workers and city missionaries worried aloud about the social problems that came from… secret consumption. Tenement doors concealed drunkenness, wife beating, and child abuse… Under license, the quality and purity of liquor could be regulated; now, inspection was virtually impossible.”

And on and on. See you in class.

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Posted in Books & resources | 3 Comments »

November 28th, 2008

Repeal Day bash at Eastern Standard

Repeal Day crowd at a bar

This December 5 marks 75 years since Prohibition was repealed, and Eastern Standard is celebrating this historic day with a blowout befitting the most extravagant speakeasies of the Roaring Twenties. (They’ve been celebrating all year, actually, with Prohibition-era cocktail specials.) The party starts on Thursday evening, December 4, and ends appropriately with a wee-hours-of-the-morning breakfast on December 5. If you’re up for a splurge, or ready to demand an early Christmas present, I strongly encourage you to get tickets for this thing.

In fact, the ticket price of $120 per person is a pretty great deal. The evening starts at 6:30 with a “juice joint” reception featuring bathtub gin, hors d’oeuvres and live of-the-era music by Miss Tess. This is followed by a six-course dinner with cocktails (see below). At 10:00 p.m., the dancing starts, courtesy of Jazz Age tunes by DJ Brother Cleve. But wait, there’s more: a 1:00 a.m. breakfast to fortify you after all that dancing and drinking. So, pull out those vintage threads you wore to the LUPEC Boston Tea Party last year and call 617-532-9100 or email for reservations. If you’re strictly a late-night owl, arrive at 10:00 for only $40 per person.

Eastern Standard Repeal Day Six-Course Dinner

First Course: Ampersand Cocktail
Buttermilk Fried Oysters with Standard Caesar Salad and Pernod Remoulade

Second Course: Waldorf-Astoria’s Perfect Martini
3 eggs, 3 styles
1) Thin, Toasted Rye Wheel, Smear of Meyer Lemon Cream Cheese, Caviar
2) White Truffle Scrambled (with shaved white truffle)
3) Deviled Egg

Third Course: Maiden’s Prayer
Maine Lobster in Pastry with a Sherry Cream Sauce, Peas and Carrots

Fourth Course: The Scofflaw
Philadelphia Pepper Pot Stew
Lamb Neck, Sweetbread, and Cockscomb, Root Vegetables

Fifth Course: The Charles Lindbergh
Roasted Karabuta Pork Chop
Scalloped Potatoes, Housemade Sauerkraut

Dessert: Corpse Reviver #3
Pineapple Upside Down Cake with Cardamom Tapioca

Hope to see you there!

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Posted in Cocktails, Events, Gin | No Comments »

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