Eighty-one years ago, tomorrow, the 21st Amendment was ratified thanks to, somewhat ironically, the great state of Utah, and Americans were once again allowed the privilege of manufacturing, selling, and consuming alcohol—for the first time in thirteen years.
The great experiment known as Prohibition was a dark time in our country. Organized crime was basically invented during this time, and alcoholism and alcohol-related crimes reached new, unprecedented levels. H.L. Mencken had this to say about Prohibition: “There is not less drunkenness in the Republic, but more. There is not less crime, but more. There is not less insanity, but more. The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished.”
As a bartender, I felt that it was important that we pay homage to this great day of Repeal, and over a decade ago I began pushing for those in my community to celebrate the day with me. Thanks to the advent of social media, Repeal Day is now celebrated in bars around the world. Here are five hotspots throwing great parties around the country this year in honor of my favorite day.
The Last Word
Owners Rick and Theresa Dobbs are on a mission: take the dreary snobbery out of cocktails and make drinking fun again. And when you walk through the door and see the throngs of people crowded around the bar interacting with what might very be the friendliest staff on the planet, you realize they’ve succeeded.
But don’t mistake all of that fun for a lack of serious cocktails. The Last Word will be opening up a Sonoma Distillers whiskey barrel that has been aging a Blue Boy cocktail (rum, sweet vermouth, bitters) and selling tasting flights for $19.33 all night long.
Julie Reiner is one of the true legends of the bar industry, responsible for putting together some of the most iconic bar programs in the countr: The Flatiron Lounge. Pegu Club, and Clover Club. Never mind the fact that the drinks are pitch-perfect, and the food that emanates from the kitchen is some of the best in the five boroughs, Clover Club’s immaculate decor just makes you want—no, need—to celebrate the holiday here. From its gorgeous telework to the 19th century mahogany back bar, everything here screams classic cocktails rather than period piece.
This year, they’ll be hosting their fifth annual Repeal Day bash. Expect live jazz, burlesque dancers, and a special Repeal Day menu.
Hidden away behind a gonzo pizza joint in the Northern Liberties neighborhood lives Emmanuelle; a windowless saloon known for hardcore classic cocktails and brilliant original concoctions (housemade grape soda, anyone?).
Expect to see a special menu for Repeal Day, featuring some lesser-known classics from antique legends Harry Craddock (His ATTY is gin, dry vermouth, absinthe and creme de violette), Jerry Thomas (in the form of a Rum Flip made with Jamaican rum, whole egg, and porter ale), and Harry McElhone (his Boulevardier made with Russell’s Reserve bourbon from the Wild Turkey distillery is absolutely sublime).
Pint and Jigger
Pint and Jigger is a special place. First off, it’s located in Hawaii, so automatically it warrants a trip. But what makes this place stand out on an island full of resort bars, chain restaurants and traps pushing over-sweetened concoctions into the gaping maws of tourists is their concept: part craft beer hall, part serious cocktail bar. It’s not often that you get to experience both, and certainly almost never can you do so while noshing on blackened Marlin and cucumber gazpacho.
Well-loved and extremely talented man behind the stick, Dave Newman, will be rolling out a completely new cocktail menu for the night, while the kitchen will be knocking out a very traditional 1920s menu just for the occasion. Period dress is encouraged but not required, check out the bar’s Facebook page for the password on December 5.
Noble Experiment (Inside the Red Star Tavern)
Even I was surprised to learn of a speakeasy-style bar inside Portland institution Red Star Tavern. But sure enough, there is it, located behind a bookshelf door. Which is troublesome, because the Red Star Tavern is so much fun to sit back and enjoy a drink in while watching the world pass outside the huge windows, there’s no need to even think about looking for another bar.
Nonetheless, they’ll be celebrating in that secret bar on Repeal Day in the same way many Americans celebrated during Prohibition: by taking the party to Havana, Cuba. Expect live music and some very Cuban-style classic cocktails courtesy of St. Barth’s rhum agricole. The Mojitos and Daiquiris are a sure-fire way to chase away what will most certainly be a rainy Portland night.
Jeffrey Morgenthaler is the bar manager at Pépé le Moko and Clyde Common, the acclaimed gastropub at the Ace Hotel in Portland, Oregon. He is also author of The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique.