Prohibition’s doctor-sanctioned drunkenness

December 31, 2010

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(Getty Images/Justin Sullivan)
Just what the doctor ordered?

As you raise your glass of champagne tonight, toast the fact that you’re not celebrating New Year’s Eve between 1919 and 1933. The “Noble Experiment” better known as Prohibition caused drinking rates to drop precipitously and made it a lot harder to get that precious glass of bubbly. 

Harder that is, but not impossible. Drinking didn’t stop in the U.S. during Prohibition, nor was it technically illegal. (Only selling, making or transporting alcohol was.) We all know the legends of the speakeasies, those password-protected watering holes lousy with dolled-up dames and their mobster dates. But writer Daniel Okrent traces a less glamorous set of work-arounds in his book Last Call: the Rise and Fall of Prohibition. According to Okrent, you were just as likely to end up in the doctor’s office or the pharmacy as the speakeasy. For $3, or about $37 in today’s money, you could get a weekly prescription to keep the taps running.
 
In the audio excerpt above, Okrent describes how the medical establishment was in cahoots with the liquor biz, underground as it was. As you’re listening, just be glad you can go to a bar this weekend. So much less romantic to steal a boozy New Year’s kiss under the cold, unflattering fluorescent lights of a CVS.  
 
Dynamic Range showcases hidden gems unearthed from Chicago Amplified’s vast archive of public events and appears on weekends. David Okrent’s talk was presented by the Chicago History Museum in May of 2010, and was recorded by Chicago Amplified. Click here to hear Okrent’s talk in its entirety, and click here to subscribe to the Dynamic Range podcast.