Old Man Prohibition never stood a chance that cold December night in 1933. He got lynched, strung up on a flagpole in the heart of Midtown, in front of hundreds of cheering witnesses.
Most New Yorkers probably aren’t planning to celebrate the anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition by hanging an effigy, as the crowds did that night 75 ago. But all the same, many folks will use the occasion as an excuse to raise a glass.
“I’ll probably have a shot,” Jim Adams, 23, said outside the 55 Bar, a former Greenwich Village speakeasy.
Reason to Celebrate
Not all revelers toasting the end of Prohibition had the luxury of a good stiff drink on Dec. 5, 1933. Booze was in frustratingly short supply, even as there was ample reason to celebrate.
“Utah Ratifies at 5:32 to End Era of Snoopery,” the Daily News proclaimed, as the unpopular 14-year dry spell in a city that always did its best to stay wet was ushered out.
Trucks with newly legal liquor entered the Metropolitan Area under the watchful eye of machine gun-toting guards, looking out for possible hijackers. More than six million quarts of whiskey were transported to the city. Thousands of cases of wines and spirits from overseas sailed into the harbor. Newly licensed retail stores and bars tried to accommodate festive crowds.
But it wasn’t enough to meet the demand. Speakeasy owners and bootleggers did their best to get keep the party going, no thanks to the authorities.
“Get after the speakeasy,” Edward Mulrooney, chair of the state’s alcohol control board, ordered cops.
They tried. Beat cops dropped in on speakeasies. Some joints were shut. But others thrived.
“They operated with a little more caution than usual,” the New York Times reported the next day, “but nevertheless they took advantage of the occasion to dispose of a large part of their unlawful stocks.”
The “smoke joints” along the Bowery offered a fabulous deal: room and board for the price of a drink. Just five cents bought a glass of redistilled industrial alcohol and a spot to sleep on the floor.
Many hotel owners also were willing to share their large stores of “medicinal” liquor, purchased at drug stores.
The repealing of the 18th Amendment was an occasion “marked by the absence of undue hilarity and only normal number of arrests,” The New York Times reported. The crowds that night, “gay as were their spirits, they were well-behaved.”
Old Man Prohibition might not agree.