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76 cheers for Repeal Day

Celebrating America’s sin-dependence day

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Gangster and gun moll was definitely the way to go at BarMagic’s second annual Repeal Day party.
Photo: Mark Kiyojima

Saturday, December 5, 5:33 p.m. Mountain Standard Time

It’s not hard to imagine just how grateful Americans felt after 13 years of having to hide their second-favorite pastime. (Figure out mankind’s first preoccupation, other than breathing and eating, and I’ll have a shiny nickel for you).

My friend Tobin Ellis from BarMagic consulting is an encyclopedia of drinking knowledge, possessing all the minute details, from when the 18th Amendment (banning the manufacture, sale and transportation of alcohol) was ratified to what the ratifiers had for breakfast the morning of the repeal vote. But all one really needs to know to celebrate Repeal Day is that for the 13 years between the ban called the “Noble Experiment” and the lifting of the ban after it was an utter failure, America had to take a cue from the Beastie Boys and fight for its right to party.

That's one lovin' spoonful! BarMagic's John Hogan mixes it up for Repeal Day at First Food & Bar.

Drinking went underground, sometimes literally, and into speakeasies. People exploited the rules of international waters and held booze on ships one mile offshore till it could be smuggled in at night. They drank “cold tea,” meaning hooch, from their opaque, porcelain cups to shield it from the eyes of the bulls. Crime got organized spurring racketeering, smuggling, violence and the sale of the cheap, noxious alcohol that contributed to many deaths.

Hey-hey, ho-ho, this Prohibition just had to go!

And so, on this, the 76th anniversary of that big ah-ha moment, I just couldn’t think of a better place to be than at the just-opened High West Distillery in Park City, Utah—the lynchpin state in the 21st Amendment’s ratification. Yes, think what you may about Utah, but know that the “Utahns” purposefully held out, letting other states cast their votes for repeal before casting their own as the required 36th state.

At 5:33 p.m. (“It’s like a 4:20 thing,” one friend put it) I was nose-deep in a tasting of High West’s three whiskeys and Bourye, a bourbon-rye whiskey blend. Needless to say, I was one happy camper. “It’s 5:33! Happy Repeal Day!” said a mild-mannered rocket scientist (no, really) to my right. But unlike midnight on New Year’s Eve, the moment went by with just a cursory clink of classes between barstool neighbors and a polite nod. No confetti or balloons dropped from the sky (though it was snowing out), no ringing of bells nor singing of songs. And certainly no kissing.

Back in Vegas, there was but one advertised Repeal party, at Downtown Cocktail Room, along with BarMagic’s industry event the next night.

So why the lack of fanfare? You would think a celebration of our very right to the Patron in our cup would be something Vegas could get behind! In a city where every day is Saturday and every weekend a holiday, how does a day like this slip by? Hell, Irish bars fete “halfway to St. Patrick’s Day parties,” McFadden’s does a St. Practice Day party the day before, and New Year’s Eve gets a do-over on New Year’s Day! Repeal Day is the drinking holiday to beat all drinking holidays. I’m mystified.

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And so, mystified still, I did it up right, dressed to the nines, maybe even the tens in my flapper best. Tobin’s second-annual Repeal Day party started with a spirited dinner (that is, the chef created dishes especially for BarMagic’s cocktail stylings) at Envy Steakhouse and ended in a private room at First Food & Bar. Under fedoras, the guys happily slid into the roll of gangster, rumrunner, bootlegger and Public Enemy No. 1, while we ladies enveloped ourselves in feathers, beads, pearls and headbands.

“What occurred to me,” Tobin said, addressing us as we dove into yet another awesome cocktail, “a lot of today’s speakeasies are quiet, stoic places.” But, he continued, if you had saved up a week’s wages and spent your drinking time fearing raids by the cops, after 13 years of tension, December 5, 1933 would have been bigger than New Year’s Eve!

“This is New Year’s Eve for the drinkers and the cocktail fans of the world,” Tobin said last week. “If it weren’t for this day, there wouldn’t be a New Year’s Eve. If you’re a bartender or like going to bars or like drinking, this is your holiday!” I’ll drink to that, this year and every one thereafter. So put it on your 2010 calendars, Las Vegas: Repeal Day 77—Sunday, December 5, 2010 at 5:33 p.m. Be there!

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