What to Drink During Prohibition

The Roaring Twenties were a strange confluence of the Puritan and libertine, perhaps best represented by Prohibition and the speakeasy night life it inspired. Many if not most of The New Yorker readers of the late 1920s were familiar with these establishments as well as with reliable bootleggers and rum runners. And for those of you following this blog we all know that “Tables for Two” columnist Lois “Lipstick” Long was THE voice of speakeasy and New York nightlife.

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 1.51.20 PM
May 29, 1926 cover by Stanley W. Reynolds.

I should point out here that Prohibition did not make consumption of alcohol illegal. The 18th Amendment prohibited the commercial manufacture and distribution of alcoholic beverages, but it did not prohibit their use.

So if you had a connection to a smuggler bringing whisky from Scotland via Canada, for example, you could enjoy a Scotch at home without too much trouble, although the prices could be high. “The Talk of the Town” editors regularly reported black market wine and liquor prices (I include an adjoining Julian de Miskey cartoon):

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 11.53.01 AM

Note the mention of pocket flasks, which were an important item in a purse or vest pocket when one went to a nightclub or restaurant, where White Rock or some other sparkling water was sold as a mixer for whatever you happened to bring with you. You see a lot of this type of advertisement in the Prohibition-era New Yorker:

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 12.11.14 PM

I’ll bet those grinning golfers have something in their bags besides clubs.

And then there were ads like these, which I find terribly sad:

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 12.12.11 PM

“The Talk of the Town” also commented on the recent visit of British writer Aldous Huxley, who told his New York hosts that he admired American writers Willa Cather and Sherwood Anderson, and he also had praise for writer and critic H.L. Mencken, whom he likened to a farmer “of the better type:”

Aldous-Huxley-004
Aldous Huxley in April 1926. (Bettman/Corbis)

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 11.48.18 AM

Other odds and ends from this issue…a clever drawing by Al Frueh for the “Profile” feature on New York Governor Al Smith:

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 12.06.42 PM

I include a photo of Al Smith for comparison:

al
New York Gov. Al Smith (NY Daily News)

And this bit from “Of All Things,” complete with bad pun/racial slur:

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 12.05.53 PM

New Yorker readers in 1926 had little reason to believe that in a decade Mussolini would try to make good on his statement and join Hitler in the next world war.

Here’s a couple more ads from the issue that are signs of those times. Note the listing of Florida locations for those New Yorkers who were flocking to that new winter vacation destination:

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 12.09.48 PM

And this ad for an electric refrigerator…for those who could afford such newfangled things. The ice man was still plenty busy in 1926, but his days were numbered.

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 12.09.15 PM

And finally, a nod to springtime, and this excerpt of an illustration by Helen Hokinson for the “Talk” section:

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 12.07.27 PM

Next Time: After a Fashion…

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 12.12.38 PM

Published by

David O

I read and write about history from the perspective that history is not some artifact from the past but a living, breathing condition we inhabit every moment of our lives, or as William Faulkner once observed, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." I read original source materials, such as every issue of The New Yorker, not only as a way to understand a time from a particular perspective, but to also use the source as an aggregator of various historic events. I welcome comments, criticisms, corrections and insights as I stumble along through the century.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s