100 years since prohibition, echoes of era still remain

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A century ago, Nebraska became the 36th state to ratify the 18th amendment also known as the prohibition of alcohol. Minnesota joined just a day later as part of America's push to sober up.

Prohibition didn't officially start until 1920, but the legislation that caused it was written by a Minnesota lawmaker. Now, the amendment has long since been repealed, but echoes of the era still remain.

“We kind of celebrate it every day as far as the idea of coming into a speakeasy,” said Ralena Young of the Volstead House.

Hidden behind a burger restaurant in an ordinary looking strip mall in Eagan, there's an ode to the so-called noble experiment.

"Every cocktail on our menu was thought up during that era and we try to stay true to that experience," said Young.

From the Tommy gun on the wall to the craft cocktails at the bar, the theme at Volstead House Whiskey Bar and Speakeasy is prohibition. On this occasion, customers like Jan Buikeme and her friends aren't afraid to dress the part.

“Glad that prohibition is gone,” said Buikeme. “It allows for much fun, much frivolity, great enjoyment within reason.”

The speakeasy is named after Andrew Volstead, a congressman from Granite Falls, Minnesota, who wrote the Volstead Act, which made alcohol illegal in the United States in 1920. The Minnesota Historical Society says Volstead received death threats after the law was passed.

“'That if you don't repeal your prohibition law in 30 days, you are going to be a dead man,’” read Lori Williamson of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Volstead was eventually voted out of Congress a couple of years later.

“People were really concerned about the effect of alcohol on families, people would spend too much time at the saloon and neglect their familial and marital responsibilities,” said Williamson.

For the next 13 years, prohibition gave rise to the roaring ‘20s. Gangsters, like Al Capone, took advantage of the law to create rum running and bootlegging operations to supply alcohol to underground bars and clubs. The Great Depression and the rise in crime from gang wars eventually led to prohibition's demise by 1933.

"The Twin Cities, especially St. Paul, became a haven for gangsters,” said Williamson. “The police had an agreement as long as you don't do any crimes here, we'll leave you alone."

Bartenders at Volstead House say that era started the modern craft cocktail movement because bartenders had to mix homemade alcohol with other ingredients to make it taste better. 

But Buikeme hopes our love affair with prohibition never goes out of style.

“In the end we look at the research and we see it failed,” she said. “So, we celebrate life with moderation of course, but still enjoy the libations and opportunities we have together.”