The Vestiges Of Prohibition

I thought Prohibition — America’s doomed effort to legislate morality and propriety by banning the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages through a constitutional amendment that gave rise to bootleggers, speakeasies, and rumrunners — ended back in the ’30s.  And it did . . . in most places.  But weird vestiges of Prohibition-era laws still can be found even now, more than 80 years later.

we-want-beerTake Colorado, for example.  Thanks to a law that traces its roots back to Prohibition, grocery stores in that state haven’t been able to sell full-strength beer.  If you walk into a store of the grocery chain of your choice in Denver, for example, you can buy 3.2 beer — and that’s it.  If you want to buy full-strength beer, you’ve got to go to a state liquor store. It’s kind of weird to think that such a limitation on beer sales would exist in Colorado of all places, because it has been one of the leaders in the movement to legalize the sale and consumption of recreational marijuana.  But Prohibition-era laws die hard.

Grocery stores apparently put up with the limitation because, until 2008, liquor sales of any kind on Sunday were banned in Colorado, except for the 3.2 beer you could buy in grocery stores.  That restriction no doubt gave grocery stores a boost in Sunday sales to thirsty drinkers who couldn’t buy anything else.  When the blue law ended, however, grocers started advocating for change, the legislature finally acted, and now the 3.2 beer limitation will be ending.  Effective January 1, 2019, you can walk into a grocery store in Colorado and buy a six-pack of Sam Adams seasonal — just like you can in Columbus and pretty much everywhere else in the United States.

For those of us of a certain age, the notion of drinking 3.2 beer brings back memories of our adolescence, when people of a certain age in Ohio (and elsewhere) were permitted to drink 3.2 beer and nothing else.  It was a rite of passage.  I don’t remember much about the quality of 3.2 beer, but I do remember the quantity, because you had a drink a lot of it to attain the desired effect.  The 3.2 beer laws in Ohio ended decades ago, however.

Welcome to the modern world, Colorado!  And down with the Volstead Act!

Advertisements

Boardwalk Empire

Kish and I have watched the first two episodes of Boardwalk Empire, the new HBO series.  It is fabulous, and we are already fully and blissfully hooked.

Steve Buscemi as Nucky Thompson

For those of you who haven’t seen the show, it is the story of Atlantic City in 1920, as Prohibition is just beginning.  The focal point of the show is Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, an elected public servant who just happens to be the head of the Atlantic City underground.  Nucky is brilliantly played by Steve Buscemi.  As with so many HBO series, however, there are many other intriguing characters and historical figures who have their own subplots, including Arnold Rothstein (the gambler who fixed the 1919 World Series), a doughboy returned home from World War I who sees a life of crime as a way to make his way up in the world, an emotionally stunted IRS prohibition agent, a well-read female Irish immigrant who has been brutalized by her drunken husband, and Al Capone, among many, many others. We will happily follow the serpentine twists and turns of the plots and subplots as the season progresses.

One of the things we enjoy most about HBO series is their ability to capture the mood and setting of long-gone places and times.  Deadwood, with its spot-on depiction of a brand-new, mud-spattered, lawless town founded on a gold boom, is a good example.  Boardwalk Empire is a worthy successor — and with Martin Scorsese directing, you would expect nothing less.  The sets, costumes, and scripts do a fantastic job of recreating the era, 90 years ago, when American tried to go dry and a boom in organized crime resulted.  It is one of those time periods that seems to have been lost in the shuffle, largely skipped over in American history class when the teacher went directly from World War I and the Treaty of Versailles to the stock market crash and the Great Depression, with perhaps only a brief mention of the Jazz Age and flappers.  I’m looking forward to learning a bit more about what that era was really like.

One of the