By Kevin Wilkerson, PubClub.com San Diego Blogger
The Prohibition Era was an interesting time in America. Designed to stop drinking, it actually accelerated it in many ways. After all, it’s human nature to be a rebel. When you’re told you can’t do something, you find a way to do it anyway. It starts as a chile and carries on into adulthood.
So when the Eighteenth Ammendment was passed in 1919, outlawing the production, sale and distribution of alcohol, Americans rebeled against it. Bars became speakeasies, cops and politicans could be bought to turn their heads the other way, gangsters and smugglers.
Like many places, San Diego has a colorful history when it comes to the Prohibition Era. Speakeasies were prevelant and one of the most famous is still serving up drinks today, Tivoli Bar and Grill. Located at 6th & Island in the Gaslamp Quarter, Tivoli was a kitchen during Prohibition serving non-alcoholic drinks. At least on the surface. Downstairs was a different story; during a 1999 restoratoin, workers found wine and whiskey bottles.
The police would pick their spots for enforecment and pretty much turned their heads when conventions came to town. Although during one, the Ameican Legion in 1929, the mayor got in hot water when someone snitched on a stash of booze being held and he said at what was supposed to be a private meeting that “I’ll see if I can get it returned.”
There was smuggling, too. Sunny Jim’s Sea Cafe in La Jolla, dug out for tourism in the early 1900s, was used to smuggle in booze from ships anchored off the coast.
There were ships three miles off shore that offered drinking, gambling and prostution, part of “Gambling Ship Row” from Los Angeles to San Diego. One, the Monte Carlo, sank during a storm after Prohibition ended and wound up in front of what is now the Coronado Shores condos. It was recently exposed during low tides, leading to all kinds of spectulations and stories.
But San Diego’s biggest contribution to the Prohibiton Era was not in the city at all. It was its close proxmity to Tijuana, which went from a tiny dot on the map with 1,000 residents to a boomtown for nightlife.
The end of Prohibition came on Dec, 5., 1933, with the passing of the Twenty-First Ammendment, which repealed the Eighteenth Ammendment. Tho America did not exactly turn on the taps overnight for free-flowing booze. The ammenement left it up to the states to set their own laws and one, Mississippi, did not repeal Prohibition until 1966. In California, voters passed Proposition 2 legalizing alchol on Nov. 6, 1934. Maybe that should be another date to celebrate.
Today, San Diego recognizes the Prohibition Era year-round with a number of speakeasies, including one called, appropriately enough, Prohibition. A few blocks away there’s a very popular bar with another Prohibition Era name: Bootlegger.