In celebration of booze
Vail, CO, Colorado
“Happy Repeal Day.”
That’s a greeting you might hear today from grateful booze hounds as the nation celebrates the 74th anniversary of Prohibition’s end.
E-town Colorado in Edwards will offer drink specials tonight to commemorate Dec. 5, 1933, the day the government lifted a 17-year ban on drinking, selling and making alcohol.
“It’s a good excuse to be friendly and meet people you don’t know or buy your teacher or neighbor a glass of wine,” restaurant owner Kevin Egan said.
Prohibition went into effect in Colorado on Jan. 1, 1916. Four years later, religious activists achieved a nationwide victory against alcohol in the form of the 18th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
“Up until that time, there was an institution in America and it was the saloon,” said Mary Ellen Gilliland, author of “Colorado Rascals, Scoundrels, and No Goods.” “It was the bastion of male retreat and comfort. Women didn’t go into saloons.”
As entrenched as saloons had become in American culture, prohibition effectively squashed them by forcing the liquor trade underground.
“[The saloons] immediately just died,” Gilliland said. “It was against the law. However, this did not in any way dampen the enthusiasm of those in the liquor trade.”
Locals began brewing moonshine at a furious rate in abandoned mine tunnels and cabins. Well-known stills sprouted up at Laskey Gulch, just east of Silverthorne and in a mine tunnel on Mt. Royal near Frisco. Thirsty residents also snuck behind curtains in the back of many bowling alleys, cigar clubs or pharmacies to swig a drink, Gilliland said.
While documents offer clues about underground activity in Summit County, historians know less about what transpired in the sheep-ranching community that was the Vail Valley.
“The Vail Valley was so remote that we don’t have a lot of information about things,” Gilliland said.
They do know hard-drinking ranchers lived in cabins on Bachelor Gulch. Known for fighting and acting rowdy, these bachelors likely turned to moonshine during prohibition, Gilliland said.
Kathy Heicher, president of the Eagle County Historical Society, turned up similar accounts as part of a writing project on prohibition.
“What I found is: Prohibition didn’t actually stop anybody from drinking who wanted to drink,” she said. “There’s a lot of stories in the early 1930s of people being arrested and even people being killed when their stills blew up.”
In 1922, authorities in Minturn caught a 16-year-old bootlegger with a suitcase filled with alcohol, but a jury acquitted him after he squealed on his partner, Heicher said.
Five years later, a bootlegger caught selling a bottle of booze in Avon received a $180 fine, she added.
Given the locals’ unflagging enthusiasm for liquor, it’s no surprise they celebrated the end of Prohibition.
Within 20 minutes of the repeal, all of the businesses that had been selling booze out of back rooms transformed into legitimate liquor stores, Gilliland said. Wild rejoicing broke out as the alcohol industry returned to full tilt.
Perhaps the only post-prohibition downer involved the saloons. Bashed as evil by supporters of the temperance movement in the 1870s and 1880s, the saloons never re-emerged as havens for male bonding.
“The whole American culture of men drinking went away and there were cocktail lounges where women sat next to men,” Gilliland said.
Although the saloons bit the dust, bars and liquor stores proliferated, paving the way for today’s humming alcohol industry.
Mickey Werner, manager of the Alpine Wine and Spirits in West Vail, described Prohibition as a period of Puritanical extremism that failed to slow the demand for alcohol.
“The noble experiment, as it was called. There was clearly nothing noble about it,” he said.
Thanks to Repeal Day, those who vacation in Vail don’t have to worry about smuggling liquor into the valley, Werner said. That’s key in a resort town based on enjoying oneself, where alcohol isn’t necessarily crucial to having a good time, but it can get people talking, Werner said.
“A glass of wine will help the conversation along: social lubrication as we like to call it.”
Arts and Entertainment Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 748-2938 or firstname.lastname@example.org.