Toast Repeal But...

Happy Repeal Day! Anyone with a license to serve alcohol or working behind the stick should certainly raise a glass today to the wise souls who saw fit to repeal the 18th Amendment and end the 14-year “failed experiment” that was Prohibition. Celebrations took place this weekend around the country; among the larger soirees were the Repeal DaYbor City back in  the dayy Ball thrown by the D.C. Craft Bartender Guild in our nation’s capitol on Saturday night and the Left Coast Bartenders’ Guild party at Ybor City’s Don Vicente Historic Inn (see photo of Ybor City back in the day) on Sunday, both of which benefited the Museum of the American Cocktail. I’d venture to say some attendees at those occasions still may be celebrating…

While it’s great to look back on this day and toast the 78th anniversary of Repeal (I’m doing so with a Colony Cocktail, as I’m a gin fan), we also must look ahead. Those in the know — and anyone serving drinks should be — see the specter of Prohibition rising again. This time around, the movement is stealthy, well-organized, well-funded and includes several U.S. government agencies using tax dollars to finance some seriously anti-alcohol initiatives. That puts a decidedly different spin on things, doesn’t it?

Not to put a damper on the Repeal Day party, but here are just a few neo-Prohibitionist activities that you need to know about:

• Millions of dollars are being granted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to companies developing technologies that detect a driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) before they start the car. These ignition interlock systems will likely prevent the car from starting if a BAC level as low as 0.02% is detected.
• Of ignition interlock, the Department of Transportation stated in a recent press release that, “The goal over time is to equip all passenger vehicles in the United States with this technology.” How do you think that will affect your bar business?
• Expect more proposals for increased alcohol and drink taxes in 2012. Fourteen of 16 tax-increase proposals were defeated in 2011, according to DISCUS, and more increase proposals are expected in 2012. 
• There’s also a movement afoot to lower the legal limit for intoxication from 0.08% to 0.05%.

These are just a few avenues the neo-Prohibitionists are taking to whittle away at the ability of the average American to enjoy a cocktail, a beer or a glass of wine while out on the town. Learn more about these initiatives and the groups behind them at

Their proponents’ rationale is that lives will be saved because drunk driving and other problems associated with alcohol will be eliminated. The reality is that responsible servers and imbibers will be punished, while problem drinkers will be forced to find more creative (and less easily detected and prevented) ways of overconsuming. And if alcohol sale and consumption becomes illegal again — either through a law such as the 18th Amendment or through various regulations, such as ignition interlock — many Americans young and old will resort to potentially dangerous behaviors to get their party on.

So today, while we wax nostalgic about speakeasies, remember, there was an extremely dark side to that time period (bathtub gin, organized crime… you get the picture). Let’s not let the country go back there. Let’s make sure we, as bar professionals, are able to continue the responsible service of alcohol to responsibly consuming patrons. Tomorrow morning, after cleaning up the last of the Repeal Day party trash, brush up on the issues threatening your livelihood, make your voice heard and prevent a return to Prohibition.

OK, I’m off my soapbox now and will continue sipping my Colony.



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