Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012 | 1:43 p.m.
When the country outlawed alcohol in 1920, millions of Americans turned to a clandestine network of speakeasies and bootleggers in search of a stiff drink.
The 18th Amendment, which banned the sale, manufacture and transportation of alcohol, ushered in an era of prohibition and gave rise to organized crime, whose bootlegging operations flourished over the 13 dry years.
The Mob Museum in downtown Las Vegas chronicles the role Prohibition played in the growth of organized crime and the efforts law enforcement agencies made to bring gangsters down.
On Wednesday, the Mob Museum celebrated the Dec. 5, 1933, passage of the 21st Amendment, which brought an end to Prohibition, with a night of drinks, dancing and music.
The “Repeal Day” festivities kicked off Wednesday morning outside the Mob Museum, where former Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman arrived in a mock-1930s police car, flocked by his trademark showgirls, this time dressed in Flapper-inspired attire.
“No other city in the world would dare have a Repeal Day party and here we are celebrating it,” Goodman said as he posed next to a bottle of Prohibition-era Boord’s “Old Tom” gin found in a second floor wall of the historic post office and courthouse that is home to the Mob Museum. “In my opinion, it’s the most important day in the history of our culture.”
Museum executive director Jonathan Ullman said during Prohibition, gangs were able to amass enormous amounts of wealth that fueled their later growth into other industries.
“At first people were very supportive of what these criminals were doing; they were giving the people what they want,” Ullman said. “But as things progress and the violence increases, the public really started to get fed up.”
During Tuesday night’s Repeal Day party, which will feature live jazz and a Roarin’ Twenties-themed costume contest, guests will have a chance to tour the museum and see some of its Prohibition artifacts, including a piece of the wall from the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and several creative tools used to conceal alcohol.
“There’s things like… this bag that has a false bottom to it with flasks underneath. There’s this other cane flask,” Ullman said. “The ways in which people would smuggle their booze were so ingenious.”
The star of Tuesday night’s festivities will be the alcohol, with bartenders from downtown watering holes the Mob Bar and the Commonwealth serving up Speakeasy-style libations.
Commonwealth mixologist Juyoung Kang said classic cocktails have seen a rise in popularity recently.
“Everyone used to make ‘nightclubby’ drinks. The liquor wasn’t good and they didn’t taste that good,” she said.
The key to re-creating classic drinks is attention to detail and quality ingredients, Kang said.
“If you’re going to repeat something from the past, you’re going to use fresh juices, egg whites, bitters,” she said.
The Mob Bar and Commonwealth will both be creating special drinks for Tuesday night’s Repeal Day celebrations, but other classic cocktails can be found on their menus any day of the year.
Here’s a look at six drinks to try if you want to relive the 1920s:
This cocktail, created by mixologists at Commonwealth and named for the notorious Chicago gangster Al Capone, is one of the featured drinks at the Mob Museum’s Repeal Day party.
It includes a shot of Templeton Rye whiskey – a liquor first distilled by Iowa farmers during Prohibition – sweet vermouth, two dashes of bitters, lemon juice and honey shaken and strained over ice in a bucket glass.
One of the most popular drinks on the Mob Bar’s menu, the Volstead Act, is described by bartender Bobby Franks as a modern take on the Champagne cocktail. It is named for the legislation that enabled Prohibition.
The drink features rosso vermouth, dragonberry-flavored rum, muddled strawberry and thyme shaken, strained and topped with rose Champagne.
A classic Brandy cocktail served up at Commonwealth, the Sidecar features cognac, orange liqueur and lemon juice garnished with a strip of lemon rind and served in a martini glass.
The Mob Bar’s contribution to the Mob Museum’s Repeal Day celebration is the Bebbo Cocktail, which features gin, lemon juice, honey and orange juice, shaken and served just like it was in the 1920s.
A Champagne cocktail served up at Commonwealth, the classic French 75 includes gin, simple syrup and lemon juice topped with Champagne.
This Mob Bar cocktail mixes bourbon whiskey with pear liqueur, agave nectar, lemon juice and apple juice, and is served on the rocks.