Chicago Never Wetter Than It is Today

Toronto Star Weekly/July 2, 1921

Chicago.—For a time after Prohibition set in there was a romantic aura about obtaining liquor in Chicago. The wily hooch-seeker was accustomed to make various cabalistic signs to the watchful bartender. Cults of the lifted finger and the thumbed car flourished. There was a certain pride in being “known.” That has all passed.

Anyone wanting a drink in Chicago now goes into a bar and gets it. Known or unknown, he will obtain it if he has seventy-five cents. It is safe to say that no one in Chicago is ever more than three blocks away from a saloon where whiskey and gin are sold openly over the bar.

Visitors from other parts of the States are astonished and amazed. It seems unbelievable. But the explanation is very simple.

In Chicago the city police take no part in enforcing the Eighteenth Amendment. Chicago always voted wet, and the Chicago police, with the splendid bovine mind of the American “Bull,” still consider it wet.

There are eight federal Prohibition-enforcement officers in Chicago. Four of them are doing office work, the other four are guarding a warehouse.

And the city is, except for the price of liquor, as it was before Prohibition became a reality over the rest of the country.

Then there is beer. St. Louis was the greatest brewery city in the States. When Prohibition came into effect, the St. Louis brewers believed that the end had come to the brewery business, and at once turned their big plants into soft-drink factories. Chicago saw the handwriting on the brewery wall, but didn’t believe it for a moment. They shut down for a while and then commenced making beer again—real beer—with a greater percentage of alcohol than had been allowed for a long time before the Eighteenth Amendment.

Now we have the interesting spectacle of the St. Louis breweries fighting to have Prohibition enforced. For the tremendous flow of real beer from the Chicago breweries, that have been running full blast, is killing the demand for near beer.

When the breweries first started on their old pre-Prohibition schedule of production, there was a great deal of beer to be had in the city, but it cost fifty cents a stein. Then some bars and restaurants started cutting prices and now real beer can be had all over the city for thirty cents a stein —fifteen cents a glass or fifty dollars a barrel.

The other day in a Loop restaurant I saw three mounted policemen seated at a table with tall steins of beer before them. Their horses were hitched outside the restaurant. As we sat at our table the headwaiter came up and requested that we excuse him just a moment while he moved the table. We rose, the table was pushed to one side, and a trapdoor opened. Out from the trapdoor four white-uniformed bartenders rolled twelve barrels of beer. As they were rolled across the floor, past the policemen’s table, the three looked lovingly at the big brown casks.

“It’s the real old stuff, Bill,” said one appreciatively, “the real good old stuff.”

So much for police enforcement of Prohibition.

(Source: William White, ed. Ernest Hemingway: Dateline: Toronto. Simon and Schuster, 2002.)