After decades of campaigning by the Anti-Saloon League, Women’s Christian Temperance Union, Prohibition Party, Suffragettes, Carrie National Prohibition Party, and others who were part of the temperance movement (aka the Drys), the Volstead Act, also known as the National Prohibition Act, was carried out to enforce the 18th Amendment. The starting date of the Volstead Act was January 17, 1920. The ban was mandated on January 16, 1920, but the 17th was the first date it would actually be enforceable. It was a dark, dark day in American history, and not just saying that because the manufacture, sale, and transportation of “intoxicating liquors” were banned.
The fact is that Prohibition never achieved what the Drys claimed it would, and January 17, 1920, started a domino effect of failure. Supporters of and campaigners for the temperance movement believed that alcohol was a “curse” on America. Surely, they thought, banning it would improve our nation’s character, lower the crime rate, boost the economy by increasing sales of “other” goods and entertainment, and strengthen families. They thought wrong.
Instead, the US economy suffered and crime rates soared as a direct result of the National Prohibition Act. Apparently the Drys didn’t foresee the fallout from closing breweries, distilleries and saloons: thousands of people lost their jobs, and that tends to spell doom for economies. The assurance of boosts in sales for other goods and entertainment? That was proven to be an empty promise when the economy went the other way; restaurants couldn’t generate revenue without beverage alcohol sales, and theater revenue slipped.
The United States government spent $300 million to enforce Prohibition, and they lost $11 billion in excise tax revenue. That’s $11.3 billion dollars in the negative column, or a loss of $869,230,769 and change per year for the 13 years that Prohibition was in effect. Meanwhile, criminals were raking in millions upon millions of dollars each year; Al Capone’s criminal enterprise alone was reportedly generating $60 million per year. Assuming the infamous Chicago “entrepreneur” maintained that level of revenue through the entirety of Prohibition, his operation made more than three-quarters of a billion dollars. The promise of lowered crime rates? Yeah, that was false as well. In fact, millions of formerly law-abiding American citizens became criminals due to Prohibition. Even some Prohibition agents engaged in criminal activity, bending to the temptation of sizable bribes. Banning something, our country has proven time and time again, doesn’t remove it from the country, it just makes it more expensive (and often makes it seem more desirable). In the case of spirits, it also means that nobody is regulating the quality of the liquid, nor is anyone ensuring that it’s safe. As a result of Prohibition, about 1,000 Americans died each year from consuming tainted bootleg spirits. Do the math and we see that the Volstead Act resulted in the deaths of roughly 13,000 Americans who consumed deadly bootleg spirits.
Towards the end of the 1920s, most Americans had finally had it with the 18th Amendment, the Drys, and watching how wealthy and powerful criminals were becoming. Riding that wave of dissent, Franklin D. Roosevelt won the presidency in 1932 with a platform that included the repeal of Prohibition. The 21st Amendment went into effect in 1933, repealing the 18th, which became the first American constitutional amendment to be repealed. Now, it can’t be confirmed but some historians claim that FDR celebrated December 5, 1933, with a dirty martini, supposedly his favorite cocktail.
However, some states stayed dry, which was their legal right. North Carolina remained dry until 1937, Kansas until 1948, Oklahoma until 1959, and Mississippi stayed dry until 1966, meaning 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of Mississippi officially repealing Prohibition. Also, Kansas, Mississippi and Tennessee are “dry by default,” meaning counties have to authorize the sale of alcohol for it to be legal and, therefore, subject to state laws. In fact, 33 states have laws that allow localities to prohibit the sale of liquor. In some places even the possession and consumption of alcohol is illegal. That seems odd when you consider the fact that Prohibition never actually made consuming alcohol a crime.
So, is there any reason to raise a glass to the so-called Noble Experiment and not just to Repeal Day? As it turns out, yes, there is. Prohibition is credited with introducing the social concept of mixed gender drinking, ending traditional courtship, and inventing dating. Middle- and upper-glass women consumed more alcohol than they had prior to Prohibition, and they did so much more overtly. The thought is that speakeasies made it easy for men and women to meet in public, beverage alcohol served as a social lubricant, and people went on dates (at the speakeasies but also elsewhere). Speaking of beverage alcohol, Prohibition helped create cocktail culture in the United States. Most Americans were beer drinkers before the 18th Amendment went into effect. Prohibition went into effect, crude spirits that were mostly unpalatable filled the vacuum created by the ban, mixers became necessary in order to mask the taste of low-quality hooch, and Americans’ love of the cocktail was born.
Cheers to Repeal Day, and a begrudging toast to Prohibition as well!
21st Amendment Brewery
The brewery invites Repeal Day revelers to “party like it’s 1933” at two celebrations of the amendment for which they’re named. 21st Amendment Brewery honors their namesake holiday every year, and 2016 is no different. On Saturday, December 3, from 1:00PM to 5:00PM at their tasting room in San Leandro, CA, 21st Amendment Brewery will be going all out with a charity gambling event (the proceeds will benefit the Alameda County Community Food Bank), a 6-piece jazz band, a cigar lounge, and food trucks. The brewery will also be releasing special barrel-aged beers which will only be available during this promotion.
On Sunday, December 4th, starting at 11:30AM, in San Francisco, the brewery will be celebrating indoors with music, food, a 1930s theme, and signature beers. 21st Amendment Brewery will be partnering with Cigar City Brewery with a Cigar City tap takeover (including Hunahpu 2016) and a cigar lounge. Make sure to dress up in Prohibition Era-themed clothing for both events!
Employees Only Annual Repeal Day Party
There’s one Repeal Day party in the United States to which an invite can only be described as “coveted,” and that word still doesn’t do the celebration justice. We all know the venue and its legacy: Not a year goes by without EO being listed among the world’s best cocktail bars. Live jazz, sultry burlesque, Prohibition Era cocktails, everyone dressed in 1920s clothing, an overall sexy vibe, and also cake – the hallmarks of a fantastic Repeal Day bash.
Repeal Day Ball 2016
The DC Craft Bartenders Guild and founding members are hosting the 9th Annual Repeal Day Ball on December 9th, 2016, to celebrate the 83rd anniversary of Repeal Day. The black tie bash will be held at the historic Carnegie Library of Washington DC and feature cocktails crafted by Washington DC’s and the nation’s best mixologist, including the team from Herbs & Rye (owned and operated by 2016 Nightclub & Bar Bartender of the Year Nectaly Mendoza). Partygoers will also enjoy a Williams & Graham pop-up.
Tickets start at $80, and VIP tickets cost $120. VIP tickets give guests access to the ball an hour early, and also grant them access to the VIP-only Champagne room and after party. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Anacostia Watershed Society, a Washington DC foundation dedicated to protecting and restoring the Anacostia River and its watershed communities by cleaning the water, recovering the shores, and honoring the heritage.
First Annual Repeal Day Party at Hotel Chantelle
On December 5th, the Repeal Society and Hotel Chantelle in NYC will celebrate the end of Prohibition with sponsors HOOCH, Bluecoat Gin, Few Spirits, St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur, and Whistlepig. Partiers will celebrate Repeal Day with jazz from Queen Ester, Mike Davis and the New Wonders, and DJ MikeWillCutYou, burlesque, and drink specials. Prohibition Era and 1930s dress is encouraged but not required, but why wouldn’t you want to embrace the spirit of the day? Those planning on attending this party should download the HOOCH app since they’ll receive their first month for just $1 and receive a discount of 45% on their Repeal Day Party ticket if they do.
Of course, you don’t need a brewery, speakeasy or hotel in order to take host a Repeal Day promotion. As you likely noticed, Repeal Day parties tend to have common elements that any nightclub or bar can tie into their celebrations: jazz music, 1920s and/or 1930s dress, Prohibition Era cocktails (the recipes for which you can find here), and burlesque performances. If permitted where you operate, you can also offer Prohibition Era pricing for cocktails for a specific time period, or the duration of your promotion if you’re feeling particularly generous. Celebrating with a cake, well…that’s up to you.