Eighty years ago today, the 21st Amendment repealed federal Prohibition, which had been put into place by the 18th Amendment in 1920. Originally intended to prevent crime and drunkenness, it soon became clear that Prohibition did just the opposite, as illegal speakeasies became prevalent and bootlegging essentially led to the establishment of organized crime in the United States.
So it was with much pomp and circumstance that Prohibition ended in 1933. And, on that very same day, San Antonio’s Esquire Tavern opened its doors to what would become known as the San Antonio River Beautification Project (now the lively River Walk, bustling with nightlife).
Named for its proximity to the courthouse, The Esquire has seen its fair share of judges, attorneys, plaintiffs, defendants, clerks, officers, and jury members. Bar manager Houston Eaves told TODAY.com, “I imagine the bar was probably pretty similar to what it is today — a social meeting place in the heart of downtown San Antonio. Somewhere that people from all walks of life come together to celebrate those most perfect of moments, social communion over a drink and a meal, as well as somewhere to go to sit in the dark, oil-lit tavern and have a discreet conversation.”
Eaves points out that, while Prohibition-era cocktails were generally designed to cover up the flavor of poorly made spirits, bartenders nowadays have access to a world of distilled beverages.
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“Since we can get almost all of the greatest spirits on earth thanks to the 21st Amendment, the idea is to really accentuate the quality of the spirits in our cocktails, never cover them up, and really let us get to know flavor again,” he said. “People are really becoming more and more conscious of what they're consuming, and educated consumers make for fine drinkers.”
Thursday, The Esquire celebrates its 80th birthday and the end of Prohibition with a “Riverwalk Empire” party featuring jazz musicians, burlesque performers, a menu of cocktails from each of the last eight decades, and four different punches to satiate the thirsty masses. Want to celebrate your right to imbibe? Try making a Capone’s Revolver. Eaves stresses the importance of using Templeton Rye whiskey — which was allegedly Al Capone’s whiskey of choice — when making this cocktail, which is one of The Esquire’s most popular.
Need a few more ideas? Try a French 75, which was actually invented during Prohibition or a Barbary Coast, which features Scotch and gin. “Only desperation would cause somebody to mix Scotch and gin, but Prohibition was a desperate time—and, surprisingly, the results aren't half bad,” writes cocktail expert David Wondrich. If you're going for simple, try a Bee's Knees, which consists of gin, lemon juice and honey syrup.
- 2 oz of Templeton Rye whiskey
- .5 oz coffee liqueur
- A dash each of Bad Dog 'Fire & Damnation' bitters
- A dash of Angostura bitters.
Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass, or over a large ice cube in an old-fashioned glass. Express the oil from the peel of an orange over the drink, and enjoy!