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April 13, 2009

Happy belated New Beer's Eve

h.l. mencken celebrates New Beer's EveGang, I've got terrible news: We forgot to celebrate New Beer's Eve -- the day it was once again legal to drink beer with 3.2 percent alcohol content. That day was 12:01 a.m. April 7, 1933. I'll let stellar Sun archivist and reporter Frederick N. Rasmussen take over from here:

Thirty-three days after taking office, Congress fulfilled one of FDR's campaign promises when the "wets" passed the Cullen-Harrison Act, which raised the alcohol allowed in "near beer" from 0.5 percent to 3.2 percent.

Maryland's legislature wasted no time in taking advantage of the new law.

During its 1933 session, the legislature authorized the sale of beer in all counties except Caroline, Carroll and Garrett, "in each of which the same was made subject to a referendum," according to the 1934 Maryland Manual.

On Thursday, April 6, 1933, which had been dubbed "New Beer's Eve," eager crowds gathered all over downtown Baltimore waiting for the moment when the hands of the clock crossed over to 12:01 a.m. Eastern Time - the exact moment when the Cullen-Harrison Act allowed the legal sale and consumption of beer in 19 states and the District of Columbia ...

"Baltimore last night gave beer a gay and noisy welcome," reported The Sun in its editions of April 7. "The downtown section was a Mardi Gras. Hundreds of horns, whistles, guns and small cannon shrieked and roared while the hands of `Big Sam' -- the City Hall clock -- crept past midnight."

At the appointed hour, whistles blew, and 100 beer trucks took to city streets in five minutes to deliver their cargoes of brew to slake the thirst of the faithful, The Sun reported.

Parking was at a premium, reported the newspaper, as crowds headed indoors to avoid heavy rains and enjoy beer that briskly sold for 10 cents a glass:

"Every hotel bar was thronged -- hotel lobbies were jammed for hours before the death knell of Prohibition was sounded at 12:01 a.m. Not a single arrest was reported in the city -- the behavior of the celebrators was uniformly orderly, reported the police."

globe breweryThe first shipment of beer arrived at the Southern Hotel at 12:01, and 20 minutes later, hotel manager A. J. Fink handed the first beer drawn at its bar to Walter H. Hopkins, who "drank it in one draft," reported The Sun.

Across town at the famed Rennert Hotel at the corner of Saratoga and Liberty streets, H.L. Mencken, who had kept up a steady drumbeat against the horror of Prohibition, had arrived at the hotel with several newspaper cronies and friends to await the arrival of the fateful hour.

He had been invited to the hotel by manager Paul Lake to enjoy its first beer, which was handed to Mencken at 12:29 a.m.

"All eyes were on the honest and discerning mogul as he bent his elbow and 'open-throated' the beer in the German manner," observed The Sun.

"Here it goes!" said Mencken.

"There was a moment's apprehension among all present lest the bitter verdict of `Hog wash!' pass his lips. ... The champion of better beer was grinning and his blue Nordic eyes were dancing," reported the newspaper.

Mencken slapped the stein on the bar and exclaimed: "Pretty good. Not bad at all."

"And as he made the proclamation the word went quickly forth into the world - the assurance for which millions were waiting. The new beer was good," the newspaper reported.

Revelers at the New Howard Hotel on Howard Street erected a tombstone in the hotel's dining room which they inscribed: "Here lies Andrew Snoop, borne January 17, 1920, drowned April 7, 1933, in a wave of public sentiment."

Full-page ads with foaming glasses of beer were published in the city's newspapers. Advertising copywriters spared no adjectives in describing the glories of their product.

"The people spoke!" proclaimed an ad for Arrow Beer and Arrow Bock Beer brewed by Baltimore's Globe Brewery.

""Happy days are here again! Here's Arrow Beer as you used to enjoy it - Arrow Beer as you always wanted it. Bury your face in its full-bodied richness. Treat your parched palate to the tang of its choicest hops and finest malt. Then let its new glow tease down to the place where good drinks go. Arrow hits the spot!"

The newspaper made no attempt at disguising its jubilation over the historic event, and in addition to printing a picture of "Big Sam," showing the sainted hour, also included pictures of two bartenders pouring beer.

repeal dayStripped across the top of the page were lyrics from the beer lover's ancient anthem: Take me down, down, down, where the Wurzburger flows, flows - It goes down, down, down, but nobody knows.

The man who had made it all possible - President Roosevelt - was asleep in his White House bed when the first truck arrived delivering beer bound for the executive mansion's pantry.

"Turkey" Joe Trabert, former Fells Point saloonkeeper and beer lover extraordinaire, went out to Jerry D's tavern in Parkville the other night, hoping to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the return of beer with other historically minded revelers.

He was instantly disappointed.

"None of those kids or anyone else there knew what the hell I was talking about when I mentioned Repeal. I might as well have been talking about something in German or French," said the good-natured Trabert.

He grew nostalgic when he recalled going in the late 1950s to Herman & Morris' Stag Tavern on Liberty Street, when he was working in the collection department at Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., to enjoy a few beers.

"They had Arrow on draft. That was a great beer. I used to have the beer along with some cheese and crackers and two hot dogs," he said.

Baltimore brewer Hugh Sisson explained he was too busy to do anything special for the anniversary.

"I can say one thing: Thank God for Repeal; otherwise I wouldn't have a job," Sisson said, with a laugh.

Prohibition finally vanished from the land Dec. 5, 1933, when Utah became the 36th state to ratify the 21st Amendment to the Constitution.

Three hours later a bill regulating the sale of liquor in Maryland reached Ritchie's desk; he quickly signed it into law at 8:26 p.m.

(Top photos from Sun archives. Bottom photo of April 7, 1933 in New York City by AP)

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 1:39 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Bars & Clubs


Late or not - great article.

Hopefully next year I can catch up with "Turkey" Joe Trabert to celebrate.

Those must have been some dark times in the Republic, indeed. We need more gay and noisey welcomes these days...

You've got it mostly right. New Beer's Eve is April 6th though. April 7th is celebrated as National Beer Day here in the US.

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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