This year on December Fifth, in bars all across the country, people will come together to drink old-fashioned and new-fashioned cocktails from or inspired by the Prohibition Era. Often outfitted in period dress and accompanied by 1920s-style swing music, guests will revel through the night to celebrate the day. Why all the fuss? Because this year is the 80th anniversary of the Repeal of Prohibition.
I remember the first time I heard about Repeal Day. It was eleven years ago and I was tending bar on a slow Thursday. One of my regulars was seated in front of me, reading the paper. Noting the “This Day in History” section, he mentioned almost offhandedly, “Today is the 69th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition.”
The Era of Prohibition (1920-1933) was a dark time in our nation’s history. The criminalization of alcohol, fueled by rabid, mouth-foaming campaigns by the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement and the maniacal, axe-wielding Carrie Nation temporarily banned alcohol (though consumption levels never changed much) and gave birth to a period of economic Depression and organized crime. Brilliant. So needless to say, that first Repeal Day back in 1933 was something of a national party. And probably the last such party for the next seven decades. Until that bar regular gave me an idea.
I set out to let the world know that the day existed by publicizing it in my bar and on my blog. My early adopter friends in Washington, D.C. jumped on board immediately, and one of those first years of Repeal Day celebrations found us in a sort of bi-coastal bar hopping simulcast, sending pictures and drunken text messages back and forth to each other as we snowballed across our respective cities, picking up more and more revelers at every historical stop on our lists.
As good fortune would have it, the world sat up and took notice, and Repeal Day parties have been gaining in popularity around the country, and around the world, for the past ten years. Because this day isn’t only important to those of us in the bar business, who without it would find ourselves in another line of work, but to all Americans. Once again, we have the right to pick up a six-pack on the way home from work, crack open a bottle of wine with friends with dinner, or head out for cocktails on a Friday night. We have the freedom to celebrate, so we celebrate that freedom.