A Toast to Prohibition

Today, Dec. 5, should be declared a local holiday. No, it is not “a date that shall live in infamy,” nor is it the day “Happiness is a Warm Gun” became sadly ironic for the man who sang it (those dark days are Dec. 7 and Dec. 8, respectively). This, the 339th day of the year, marks the 75th anniversary of the 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition. Pop a cork – it’s not that often the government returns a right it has wronged, let alone a right revoked with a constitutional amendment. In this case, the 18th Amendment, otherwise known as the Volstead Act, named for Andrew Volstead, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee (though it was penned by Wayne Wheeler and the Anti-Saloon League – a name, were it not for Wikipedia, I’d assume was a 1960s psychedelic band).

For help imagining Prohibition-era Sonoma, take a peek into Plaza Liquors, which recently emptied its shelves of the demon-water due to a licensing ballyhoo that somehow involved a sting or police, or better, Sting and the Police, which means live music is indeed thriving on the square.
From 1920 to 1933, the powers-that-were enforced a national moratorium on booze, which led to oceans of bathtub gin, the invention of the speakeasy and the inevitable rise of the mob (though a romanticized version of the mob has done good by those Hollywood artists whose names end in a vowel, generally, the Mafia is considered a bad thing – no offense Coppola, Pacino, DeNiro, Gandolfini, etc.). And locally, Prohibition led to the devastation of our wine industry. Prior to the amendment, there were 256 wineries in Sonoma County, but by its repeal, fewer than 50 wineries remained. Not until this year, have winery numbers finally crept back to their pre-Prohibition peak. Yes, Sonoma Valley wine was once an endangered species; now one can’t throw a tasting without hitting a negociant (just a wee jab for those who recall the brawl).

Cheers to Anthony Dimaano for the photot.
Cheers to Anthony Dimaano for the photo.

These days, if Sonoma’s wine well went dry, we would be drowned by economic ruin for our primary industries are wine and tourism – like one hand washing the other, with cash. So what are we doing to protect our industry and the precious 21st Amendment that again made it possible? In San Francisco, the aptly named 21st Amendment Brewery is throwing a Repeal Prohibition Parade, beginning at 4 p.m., that will march from Justin Herman Plaza to its brewery location at 563 Second St. The parade will be led by two grand marshals, both celebrating birthdays – one turns 21 and the other 75. The duo is to be followed by the Green Street Mortuary Band, which I surmise, is meant to represent the death of youthful innocence and perhaps death from advanced age.

Of course, Sonoma is no slouch when it comes to parades, seeing as we seem to have one for everything short of rain. However, Sonoma’s 21st Amendment parade would likely devolve into a pub-crawl in a matter of minutes – better for the local economy as well as traffic (so long as no one attempts to drive). I considered supplying a map to aid in this endeavor, but realized a “mental map” would suffice: Imagine a square. Imagine drinking. Proceed at right angles until Vern’s Taxi arrives to take you home. Throughout, query, “Where the hell is Daedalus?” Then remind yourself loudly and sarcastically that he’s “at the company holiday party.” Indeed, some of us have to work tonight. But as FDR quipped while signing the legislation that eventually repealed Prohibition, “I think this would be a good time for a beer.” I quote those very words in FDR’s honor every day. At about 3 o’clock.