The taverns are not generally under the best regulations, although they were crowded to overflowing. I stopped at the Steamboat Hotel, and I thought enough grog was sold at that bar to satisfy any reasonable demand for a whole village.
- A. A. Parker, 1835
It was absolutely impossible to get a drink in Detroit unless you walked at least ten feet and told the busy bartender what you wanted in a voice loud enough for him to hear you above the uproar.
- Malcolm Bingay, writing about Detroit under Prohibition in Detroit is My Own Home Town, 1946
Friends, this is going to be a good one.
You know that I love stories of drinking and disorder in early Detroit, right? And that I myself love a stiff (but well-made!) drink, and the pleasures of boisterous company? If you’ve been reading the book you may have noticed that I included not one but TWO chapters about liquor, parties, dancing, overindulgence and miscellaneous dissipation.
Since its founding in 1701, Detroit’s history has been thoroughly wet — rough, bloody, and dissolute, but uninterrupted, despite the best efforts of Jesuits, Yankee Puritans, preachers, Temperance activists, and two legal Prohibitions. (Yes, two. More on Michigan during the Maine Law years – 1855-1875 – later this week.)
On Monday, December 5 — the anniversary of the repeal of the 18th amendment, which ended 13 years of Prohibition in the United States — we celebrate this drenched legacy in style at The Sugar House. Former Free Press columnist Bill McGraw and I will deliver some favorite episodes from Detroit’s drinking history, and there will be classic cocktails aplenty, plus Dixie jazz from the D-Town Get Down Brass Band.
We’ll kick off with a ceremonial cask-tapping at 5:30 p.m. Doors at 3:00 if you want to get an early start. Period dress encouraged.
Hope to see you there!