The Spirited History of the American Bar

Christine Sismondo, author of the new book America Walks into a Bar, explains how the local tavern contributed mightily to what America is today. In colonial times, it was a place for people to discuss anything as equals.
In taverns people could mix together: you see men drinking alongside the people they work for. Early laws fixed the price that tavern-keepers could charge for a drink, so they couldn’t cater to wealthy patrons. And once you add alcohol in there, it changes the way everyone relates to each other. You end up with accelerated relationships—and occasionally cantankerous ones. People become more willing to go out and raise hell over things that they might have let go when sober.

Labor and civil rights movements started or spread in taverns, which was one reason the powers-that-be wanted to shut them down at various times in history.
Laws shutting taverns on Sunday in the 1850s are the worst example, because they targeted immigrants. Taverns were the only recreational space they had access to and Sunday was the only day they had off. But city governments, especially in Chicago, wanted to stifle the machine politics of the immigrant taverns. During Prohibition, the chasm between working-class and respectable drinking places was even clearer—the law wasn’t enforced equally.

Get the rest of the story at Smithsonian. Link

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