Posts Tagged ‘1920s’

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 »

December 5th, 2008

My head hurts

Repeal party at Eastern Standard - bartenders shaking atop the bar
When you get past the utter crappiness of this photo I took last night, and you look closely, you’ll notice seven bartenders standing atop the bar at Eastern Standard (there were eight, actually — Jackson Cannon was out of frame). This is one of the cooler things I’ve seen in a bar.

The bartenders are shaking Pisco Sours for the 100 or so guests who attended a six-course, six-cocktail dinner and all-night speakeasy to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition. What more authentic way to mark this day than by drinking cocktails of the era — an Ampersand, a Waldorf-Astoria Perfect Martini, a Charles Lindbergh, a Blood & Sand, a Scofflaw and a Pisco Sour — and being thankful the next day for our constitutional right to give ourselves ripping hangovers?

The moment that felt most 1920s to me? Eating a course consisting of caviar on rye toast, scrambled eggs with white truffle, and deviled egg paired with that martini I mentioned: Beefeater, Martini & Rossi dry vermouth and Fee’s orange bitters in a small cocktail glass with a large olive. Heaven.

I don’t know how he did it, but Fred Yarm over at Cocktail Virgin Slut managed to post about the event in vivid detail well before noon today.

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Posted in Cocktails, Events | 3 Comments »