How Liquor Got Into Manhattan During Prohibition

Smugglers Bootleggers and Scofflaws“It should not be forgotten,” writes historian Ellen NicKenzie Lawson, “that one possible derivation of the word Manhattan is the Native-American word Manahachtanienk, which translates as ‘place of general inebriation.'”

So, when politicians in Washington, DC decided to impose Prohibition on the nation, New York City became the biggest scofflaw. The town openly and brazenly disobeyed the teetotalism, as Lawson richly details in Smugglers, Bootleggers, and Scofflaws (SUNY Press, 2013).

To tell the story, Dr. Lawson worked through heaps of original records—some 90 boxes of materials held in the National Archives. She discovered some amazing things, and brings to light facts you will not find in other histories of Prohibition.

Prohibition unleashed mayhem in Manhattan, where drinking was a daily habit for many denizens. To understand why, one need only consider the basic economics of the matter. Demand for a good will not disappear by abolishing the legal market for it. Supply will simply shift from licit producers and sellers to illicit ones, who will fight among themselves for market share. The quality of the product may decline, as a firms are unable to be held unaccountable by either the government or customers.

So it was that the Big City became riven with gangs, who formed complex syndicates that trafficked smuggled and illicitly produced (and often toxic) alcoholic beverages. With 30,000 speakeasies operating and millions of bottles and kegs of drink being consumed, one can only imagine the immensity of the untaxed wealth flowing into the pockets of thugs like Big Bill Dwyer and Lucky Luciano.

You can read a digest of Lawson’s book in Prologue, a quarterly magazine published by the federal government’s National Archives and Records Administration. But to get a full picture of the utter failure of Prohibition in Manhattan, buy a copy of her book and visit Lawson’s




Shakespeare and Cocktails

Shakespear Not StirredWell, this is fun. Two Shakespeare scholars have a released a cocktail book, Shakespeare, Not Stirred: Cocktails for Your Everyday Dramas (2015). “Each original cocktail and hors d’oeuvre recipe connects Shakespeare’s characters to life’s daily predicaments.” For example, you can “Drown your sorrows after a workplace betrayal with Othello’s Green-Eyed Monster.”

You can listen to an interview with the authors, Caroline Bicks and Michelle Ephraim, at Copies of the book can be bought for about $10 here.


Lyranda Martin Evans and Fiona Stevenson, Reasons Mommy Drinks

Lyranda Martin Evans Fiona Stevenson Reasons Mommy Drinkso.k., this is not exactly the sort of drinks book that would usually mention.

But rules may be broken for a good reason, and the reason here is straightforward: Reasons Mommy Drinks (Three Rivers Press, 2013) is very funny.

Just look at the cover—a cocktail with Lego ice cubes, a depiction of the intrusion of children upon cocktail hour. Authors Lyranda Martin Evans and Fiona Stevenson have put together an amusing volume of one-page maternal rants paired with cocktail lessons.  So, to pick one of the 100 or so, here is a snippet of “Swim Class”:

Mommy was punch drunk from labor when she signed you up for Infant Swim at the local public pool. She had visions of you flowing peacefully in the water, an extension of the womb, but failed to consider this would mean pouring herself in  postpartum swimwear. Visual reference: sausage bursting on a BBQ. All Mommy owns are neon string bikinis from a previous life, but she can’t bear to buy a sensible one from the I’ve Given Up Line at Sears…

This entry is followed by a recipe for the Pool Party, a tasty mixture of blue curacao, lemonade, and soda. other entries address all-too-real post-childbirth topics like “the car seat,” “sex,” “the babysitter,” etc.

You can order a paperback or e-copy of Reasons Mommy Drinks here . No doubt it would make a laugh-inducing gift for the soon-to-be-mother or new mom.