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“The more prohibitions you have, the less virtuous people will be”*…

From the annals of temperance, a particularly tasty (albeit tasteless) tidbit…

Near the end of the 19th century, New Yorkers out for a drink partook in one of the more unusual rituals in the annals of hospitality. When they ordered an ale or whisky, the waiter or bartender would bring it out with a sandwich. Generally speaking, the sandwich was not edible. It was “an old desiccated ruin of dust-laden bread and mummified ham or cheese,” wrote the playwright Eugene O’Neill. Other times it was made of rubber. Bar staff would commonly take the sandwich back seconds after it had arrived, pair it with the next beverage order, and whisk it over to another patron’s table. Some sandwiches were kept in circulation for a week or more.

Bar owners insisted on this bizarre charade to avoid breaking the law—specifically, the excise law of 1896, which restricted how and when drinks could be served in New York State. The so-called Raines Law was a combination of good intentions, unstated prejudices, and unforeseen consequences, among them the comically unsavory Raines sandwich.

The new law did not come out of nowhere. Republican reformers, many of them based far upstate in Albany, had been trying for years to curb public drunkenness. They were also frustrated about New York City’s lax enforcement of so-called Sabbath laws, which included a ban on Sunday boozing. New York Republicans spoke for a constituency largely comprised of rural and small-town churchgoers. But the party had also gained a foothold in Democratic New York City, where a 37-year-old firebrand named Theodore Roosevelt had been pushing a law-and-order agenda as president of the city’s newly organized police commission. Roosevelt, a supporter of the Raines Law, predicted that it would “solve whatever remained of the problem of Sunday closing.”

New York City at the time was home to some 8,000 saloons. The seediest among them were “dimly lit, foul-smelling, rickety-chaired, stale-beer dives” that catered to “vagrants, shipless sailors, incompetent thieves, [and] aging streetwalkers,” Richard Zacks writes in Island of Vice, his book-length account of Roosevelt’s reform campaign.

The 1896 Raines Law was designed to put dreary watering holes like these out of business. It raised the cost of an annual liquor license to $800, three times what it had cost before and a tenfold increase for beer-only taverns. It stipulated that saloons could not open within 200 feet of a school or church, and raised the drinking age from 16 to 18. In addition, it banned one of the late 19th-century saloon’s most potent enticements: the free lunch. At McSorley’s, for example, cheese, soda bread, and raw onions were on the house. (The 160-year-old bar still sells a tongue-in-cheek version of this today.) Most controversial of all was the law’s renewed assault on Sunday drinking. Its author, Finger Lakes region senator John W. Raines, eliminated the “golden hour” grace period that followed the stroke of midnight on Saturday. His law also forced saloon owners to keep their curtains open on Sunday, making it considerably harder for patrolmen to turn a blind eye…

Behind this lifestyle tug-of-war lay a cultural conflict of national proportions. Those in favor of the Sunday ban, generally middle-class and Protestant, saw it as a cornerstone of social improvement. For those against, including the city’s tide of German and Irish immigrants, it was an act of repression—an especially spiteful one because it limited how the average laborer could enjoy himself on his one day off. The Sunday ban was not popular, to say the least, among the city’s Jews, who’d already observed their Sabbath the day before.

Opponents pointed out that existing Sabbath drinking laws were hypocritical anyway. An explicit loophole had been written into the law itself: it allowed lodging houses with ten rooms or more to serve guests drinks with meals seven days a week. Not incidentally, wealthy New Yorkers tended to dine out at the city’s ritzy hotel restaurants on Sundays, the usual day off for live-in servants.

Intentionally or not, the Raines Law left wiggle room for the rich. But a loophole was a loophole, and Sunday was many a proprietor’s most profitable day of business. By the following weekend, a vanguard of downtown saloon-owners were gleefully testing the law’s limits. A suspicious number of private “clubs” were founded that April, and saloons started handing out membership cards to their regulars. Meanwhile, proprietors converted basements and attic spaces into “rooms,” cut hasty deals with neighboring lodging-houses, and threw tablecloths over pool tables. They also started dishing up the easiest, cheapest, most reusable meal they could get away with: the Raines sandwich.

The Raines Law debacle was merely a prelude for what was to come. New York reformers had long allied themselves with the Anti-Saloon League, a civilian organization with Midwestern origins that would morph into one of the most powerful pressure groups in U.S. history. By 1919, the efforts of the ASL made nationwide Prohibition the law of the land, putting an end to such quaint half-measures as the Raines sandwich and replacing the Raines hotel with the speakeasy.

Ubiquitous– and inedible: “To Evade Pre-Prohibition Drinking Laws, New Yorkers Created the World’s Worst Sandwich.”

Laozi

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As we reach for the beer nuts, we might recall that today is National Liqueur Day.

The word liqueur comes from the Latin liquifacere, which means to liquefy. A liqueur is an alcoholic beverage made from a distilled spirit. Distillers flavor the spirit with fruit, cream, herbs, spices, flowers, or nuts. Next, they bottle it with added sugar or other sweeteners. While liqueurs are typically considerably sweet, distillers do not usually age their product long. They do, however, allow a resting period during production, which allows the flavors to marry.

With the broad selection of spirits available in seasonal, fragrant, and often curious flavors (vodkas and rums in particular), there is often confusion of liqueurs and liquors. In the United States and Canada, spirits are frequently called liquor. The most reliable rule of thumb to follow suggests that liqueurs comprise a sweeter, syrupy consistency, while liquors do not. Most liqueurs also have a lower alcohol content than spirits. However, some do contain as much as 55% ABV.

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