January 17, 2020, marks a hundred years since the Volstead Act went into effect, launching the United States into 13 years of Prohibition. Now with a century in Americans’ collective rearview mirrors, we can all pretty much admit that the so-called Noble Experiment was an absolute failure. The teetotalers of the Temperance Movement who predicted a better society instead encountered crime, corruption and even more consumption of alcohol. Flip the proverbial bird to those dark days and misguided attempts to deprive us of our liquor with these four Prohibition-inspired tours and activities.
After gleaning info on the City of Angels’ early distillers and what became of them during Prohibition, as well as why East Coast gangsters couldn’t make headway here and instead were pushed out by city officials, take to the streets for a 10-mile bike ride that departs from Hotel Indigo. Your guide will take you to a century-old speakeasy where you’ll learn about the underground distilleries that were ubiquitous in each L.A. neighborhood. See the LAPD Internal Affairs office and learn how officials there were able to take down corrupt police officers and politicians. And because this is the entertainment capital of the world, the Roaring Twenties come to life as you ride past the historic theater district and United Artists and the Million Dollar theaters on Broadway.
Dates vary, 4 hours, $75 per person (includes tour guide, safety marshal, water, use of a bicycle and helmet)
Author, historian and tour guide Garrett Peck regular gives tours that visit the historic sites in the nation’s capital critical to understanding the origins of Prohibition and why it failed. Tours start at the Temperance Fountain, an ode to abstinence, and continue to Calvary Baptist Church, where the Anti-Saloon League, the organization that created the Eighteenth Amendment, held its national convention in 1885. Groups visit the former house of Woodrow Wilson, who was president when Prohibition began and vetoed the Volstead Act because he believed beer and wine should still be legal. (Incidentally, Congress overrode his veto the very next day.). His dwelling also houses a wine cellar whose clandestine contents were most likely supplied by the French embassy.
“No one considered the consequences of what happens when you take Americans’ beer away, and the lawbreaking started right away,” says Peck, author of “The Prohibition Hangover” and “Prohibition in D.C.: How Dry We Weren’t.” He cites that D.C.’s 267 licensed saloons before Prohibition ballooned to around 3,000 speakeasies during the Noble Experiment. It was estimated that four out of five Congressman drank and many even had their own bootleggers on retainer. “Prohibition was such a head scratcher.”
Check site for dates, 3 hours, $35 per person (includes $10 admission for Woodrow Wilson House), Metrocard required
After Congress passed the National Prohibition Act, Kansas City quickly became regarded as one of the wettest cities in the country and took on the nickname Paris of the Plains. During this excursion, you’ll ride around in a comfy tour bus while examining its infamous history during that era, like the “working women” of the streets and the Mafia families who controlled the government and all but ruled the cities. You’ll visit four unique stops that include former speakeasies, brothels and a private tour of a modern distillery and sample some of the best cocktails being shaken and stirred in KC.
Fridays, Saturdays, 4:30 p.m., 3 1/2 hours, $80 per person (includes transportation, four stops, four cocktails, small bites)
Jonathan Knotek, the founder and co-owner of Chicago Prohibition Tours, was inspired to create a tour that would examine the Windy City’s most notorious era through the lens of an average person just trying to get a drink during that time. The tour shares info on what you could get and how you could obtain your hooch of choice, as well as tips for avoiding imprisonment (or death) in the process. It also covers social aspects and how attitudes and moralities evolved throughout the 13 years that Prohibition was in effect. The group visits four stops, all of which were working speakeasies during the 1920s and ’30s and still operate today. On the roster are Burwood Tap, Butch McGuire’s, Club Lucky, Exchequer, Harry Caray’s, Marge’s Still and Twin Anchors.
Knotek is tight-lipped on what tourgoers will learn, but you can bet it’ll be intel that the general public or even regulars at those bars don’t know. But he’s pretty vocal about this thoughts about Prohibition, which he dubs “a bigoted, self-righteous nearsighted movement that tried to impose on an entire diverse country a specific religiosity and morality to consuming alcohol.” But the unintended consequences of its failure are a delicious irony, he says: “The next time you see a group of women in the clothes they want to wear bellying right up to the bar, you have Prohibition to partly thank for that. I’m sure it would’ve happened eventually, but Prohibition hastened it. People figured we’re already breaking the law, so let’s not worry about the other ‘moral conundrums.’”
Mondays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, 4 p.m., 3 1/2 hours, $45 per person (includes transportation), private group tours possible