Someone asked me my thoughts on repeal day today.
I know, it is very faddish to celebrate repeal day. I understand the desire to celebrate the end of a law that sought to impose one group’s morality upon another. But, here is why I don’t celebrate it:
The old American mixological tradition was mostly lost as a result of the Volstead Act. You probably call the period of the Volstead Act, “prohibition.” It shut down the legitimate industry that trained bar-tenders in the old way that was focused on service and understanding of specific types of drinks. Most pre-Volstead Act bar-tenders never went on to work in the prohibition-era speakeasies. In speakeasies, new ‘bar-tenders’ poured smuggled-and-imitation liquors into bad, over-juiced drinks that were all mistakenly called cocktails. In some ways, the shame of the speakeasy is still very much with us.
When the Volstead Act was repealed in December of 1933, the old-timers were not sought out to restore the old traditions, standards or depth of mixological understanding. Instead, scores of thousands of new-hire bar-tenders with no experience or awareness of tradition built upon second-rate speakeasy, or Savoy Cocktail Book type, mixology to create our modern tradition. It is nothing compared to the old tradition, but the sheer number of know-nothing, new-hire bar-tenders in 1933 swamped all remaining vestiges of, and hopes for, the older ways.
It’s as if the Volstead Act had put the old tradition into a coma and repeal day came along some time later and finished it off. No other outcome was really possible, but I still don’t want to celebrate it.