- December 12th, 2011
- Write comment
A day for true celebration, as we mark the anniversary of the death of “The Noble Experiment,” Prohibition.
A little background: basically the country was going down the tubes because people drank WAY more alcohol back in the day than we do now. We’re talking like five gallons of hard liquor a year in Colonial times. Average. Per person. That’s nearly two shots of liquor every single day. Those numbers did start to come down with the Temperance movements of the late 1800s, until the Teetotalers got their way. Because America wildly overreacts to everything, they decided that an outright ban on alcohol would solve all their problems. The Eighteenth Amendment went into effect in 1920 and said you couldn’t manufacture, sell, or transport liquor in the US. Possession and consumption was still technically legal. The non-drinkers thought it would create a new utopia and last forever. The “Father of Prohibition,” Senator Morris Sheppard, claimed that “There is as much chance of repealing the Eighteenth Amendment as there is for a hummingbird to fly to the planet Mars with the Washington Monument tied to its tail.” Then things went a bit south… bootlegging, moonshining and organized crime skyrocketed until even die-hard Prohibitionists had to admit that it was a bad idea. On December 5, 1933, Utah became the 36th (and final state needed) to ratify the 21st Amendment, and Prohibition was over. Though it didn’t go into effect until December 15th, the 5th is celebrated as Repeal Day.
This is like my Christmas. Only in December.
Anyway, a celebration was needed. Last year I was drinking beers with the Irish Lad and Wifey at their house, and we fittingly had our first tastes of Brew Free or Die IPA from 21st Amendment. Actually, on the way home I got pulled over because my taillight was out. The remaining beers were rolling around the back of my car (they had escaped from their carrying case), and friendly Mr. Police Officer shone his flashlight on them and asked me what brand they were. I should have offered him one, but he let me go anyway.
Repeal Day fell on a Monday this year, so that meant a great excuse for a Monday Night Cocktail Club event. The Lady Friend and I met after work at South Station, and ventured up to the Purple Shamrock, in the Government Center/Faneuil Hall area. Now, on a Friday or Saturday night, the PSham is complete chaos. All the tards from the suburbs or further think that the Faneuil area is the happening place. The reality is an evening of long lines, cover charges, lousy drinks, college kids, overly-made-up skanks, and Jersey Shore types from Revere. It’s great for a night of drunken debauchery out with a group, but if you want to enjoy a quiet drink, this is not the place.
On a Monday night, that all changes.
I had wandered in there a couple years ago on a MNCC saunter, needing to use the bathroom. Then I figured since it was cold outside and warm inside the bar, I may as well stay for a pint. I struck up a conversation with the bartender, Jackie, and we had a lovely chat. She’s from just north of London and a genuinely nice person, who knows how to pour a proper pint of Guinness (with the foam so close to the top that it has a small convex bulge across the head as the surface tension holds it together). I began to stop in for a pint and a chat on many following MNCC excursions, and even on some weekends with a rowdy Midwestern group of friends. Here’s a protip: it really pays to know the bartender personally on a busy night. It might be three deep at the bar, but I’m getting served first.
Apparently, the Purple Shamrock is named for a bit of Boston history, which I just recently found out. Former mayor/governor James Curley, who was cartoonishly corrupted and just plain criminal (seriously, he was in prison a couple of times), was nicknamed The Purple Shamrock (also, the Rascal King. Yes, like the Mighty Mighty Bosstones song). Across the street from the bar, there are two statues of this villain; one standing and one sitting on a nearby bench, both doing nothing useful, as politicians do in real life. I honestly don’t understand why such an unscrupulous person is memorialized and celebrated to that effect, but that’s Boston.
So the Lady Friend and I started there for a bite and a beer. The food is pretty good, and it’s nice and quiet on a weeknight. This time it smelled lovely, like breakfast. It took me awhile to pin down the aroma, which finally clicked as “french toast.” It turned out to be a “Maple Pancake” scented candle in the entryway, and I think it was a welcome change from the usual “holiday” scents of cinnamon and nutmeg. I had a couple Guinness (naturally) and a tasty tasty BBQ chicken sangwich, while the Lady Friend went with steak tips and a water. Apparently, she likes the steak tips at the Union Brewhouse better. We finished up, bade farewell to Jackie, and headed to our first official stop, The Bell in Hand Tavern, just down the block.
A little more history: The Bell in Hand Tavern claims to be the oldest tavern in the country. Well, according to this article, not quite. But it is pretty damn old. Sidenote: I will have to make trips to Charlestown (Warren Tavern, 1780) and down to Newport (White Horse Tavern, 1673, beating the Bell in Hand by over 100 years). Anyway, Bell in Hand was founded by Jimmy Wilson, Boston’s town crier. It became known as a place where the colonists met to discuss and plan the revolution.
These days, not so much. The revolution is over (we won! U-S-A! U-S-A!) and now the Bell in Hand is another douche central like the Shamrock. They have karaoke during the week (fortunately not on the Monday we were there) and live cover bands on weekends. On a Saturday night it’s usually wall-to-wall dbags. Again, I’ve been here many times before, usually with a party group, and it’s a blast, but totally not my scene of choice now. It made the list because it is a historically important spot in Boston, and if we’re drinking to celebrate a historical event, we’ll do it in the right place. The Lady Friend and I sipped on some Samuel Adams Brick Red ale, a beer that can only be found on tap in Boston. It’s pretty good… similar to a Sam Lager, but without the hoppiness. A good, easy-drinking ale; a proper Boston drink. Naturally, this necessitated a trip to the lav, which appears to have been remodeled since I was here last. At least, it’s nicer than I recall, but memories from the Bell in Hand tend to be rather fuzzy. As a puzzling feature, the urinals are awkwardly mounted about a foot higher than seems necessary. I’m not sure if this is on purpose, or for a certain reason, but it does generate an unfortunate amount of, shall we say, splashback. Just a tip for the gents. Also, apparently they just phoned it in with the soap dispenser… nothing wall mounted, just a pump-top bottle which I’d bet would go missing within the first 20 minutes of a typical Saturday. Drunk guys will steal or smash anything that’s not literally bolted down. Just because they can.
We ventured to our next stop, No. 9 Park, which is practically next to the State House. It’s a fancy restaurant and equally fancy bar where the cocktails are top notch. This was another MNCC discovery, and one worth several repeat visits. I got to know Ted, the bartender, and we chatted about drinks and such until he got promoted to bar manager, and his shifts changed. Happily, he happened to be working on Monday night, and we exchanged pleasantries. The Irish Lad and Wifey had joined us en route, and we lounged in the corner booth. While we were making our drink choices, Ted brought over a round of Last Word cocktails, a very fitting Prohibition-era tipple, which was a very generous and appreciated gesture. It also made me appear to have connections, and, who am I to argue? I’m kind of a big deal.
So, we enjoyed our Last Words, and put our drink order in. Among the drinks were a Mint Julep for the Lady Friend (her Rule 37 for the week, as she had never had one before), and a Negroni (Plymouth gin, Cinzano vermouth) for me. Wifey had some vodka drink, followed by one with apple brandy and gin, and the Irish Lad was pleased with a West Coast Green Flash IPA. We sipped and chatted, and Wifey waved out the window at passers-by. There was a guy at the bar with a top hat/rabbit puppet who seemed to be a few crayons short of a rainbow. We finished, said a quick word of thanks to Ted, and ventured out to our next stop.
They were closed.
On Repeal Day.
So, it was off to Silvertone Bar & Grill instead. I heart Silvertone. Dark, cozy, good food, good drinks. It’s a well-known place among industry types, and a great place to relax. The food and drinks are both decently cheap, but without skimping on the quality. Again, on a weekend it’ll be packed, but with a more hipster crowd than the Faneuil bars. On a Monday night you can squeeze into a booth and order up some comfort food, which is just what we did. Mmmmmm grilled cheese with bacon. Wifey had a raspberry Stoli and Sprite, or something liek that, while the rest of us had some Mayflower IPA. The IPA tasted off to me, with a spicy/nutmegginess to it. It could be that my palate was out of whack after the Negroni. I’m not sure. But this was the last stop for the night. The Lady Friend was fading fast (even though she had a half day of work on Tuesday and didn’t have to get up early) so we finished up and headed for the T. Repeal Day ended with plenty of drinks in my belly, and half of my fries and sangwich (with bacon!) in the fridge for lunch the next day. I miss the Monday Night Cocktail Club.