Dec 5, 2006

To George and Ollie, Kate and Frieda!

Today is Repeal Day, a fledgling holiday marking the repeal of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

For thirteen long, dry years, Americans were consitutionally forbidden from drinking booze. The 18th Amendment was instituted in 1920, forbidding "the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes."

Besides just being a really huge buzzkill, Prohibition put hard-working mom-and-pop shops across the country out of business. Many saloon keepers and restaurant owners couldn't survive this dark period, including my own family. Two of my great-great aunts, Kate and Frieda, took over their father's New York City restaurant just as Prohibition kicked in, but even though they sold "a cup of tea" on the sly, they just couldn't make it work.

My great-great-uncle, George, also owned a restaurant there, but he refused to sell liquor during Prohibition. According to an article from the New York Sun dug up by my uncle years ago, "The Chambers Street place had a couple of things to its credit that didn't call for the use of alcoholic stimulant. True the corned beef and cabbage on Wednesdays have tasted a little better with a glass of real beer, but George's customers knew the value of the food and were satisfied to forgo the stimulant."

A smart guy, that George: he kept his place on Chambers St. open until 1930. I don't know when George died, but I think he must have lived to see the passing of the 21st Amendment in 1933. I wonder what he thought about having retired three years earlier when he read that headline.

So hoist a glass tonight, would you, for all the brewers and barmen, the shopkeeps and restaurant owners, and all the everyday men and women who were unfortunate enough to live through the worst draught in our nation's history.

To George and Ollie, Kate and Frieda, and all the rest!

Special thanks to the following bloggers and boozehounds for getting the word out about Repeal Day:

Drink This Blog
Jeffrey Morgenthaler
All the Rage
DC Drinks
Museum of the American Cocktail
and the daddy of 'em all: Days That End in Y, with his list of 73 ways to celebrate (one for each anniversary)

How are you celebrating Repeal Day? Let us know!

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