Duggan McDonnell on Repeal Day



Duggan McDonnell is a partner in the Latin cocktail lounge Cantina, an educator, consultant, and a culinary boozehound who says, "America: love it or leave it!"


Repeal Day: The Fight for Your Right to Party


This Friday, December 5th, marks the 75th Anniversary of one of the most significant dates for American liberty. In 1933, with the House having secured enough votes from states across the country, the 18th Amendment was overturned by the 21st Amendment and the era of Prohibition was repealed. And this Friday there will be rampant celebrations happening across our City as we toast to our freedom.

It's wise to remember that those thirteen years of Prohibition were some of the darkest times in American history. Figuratively, we waged a Civil War upon ourselves: jobs were lost, poverty skyrocketed, literary and visual artists fled overseas, crime syndicates were formed and then bullied business for decades thereafter. The list of sins that the Anti-Saloon League, Mrs. Carry Nation and her Temperance Union inflicted via the Volstead Act (the 18th Amendment's street name) upon Americans resulted in generations of cultural, sociological, and even, physical death. It was only the 21st Amendment that brought new life back into this country; and it is December 5th, 1933, 'Repeal Day,' that this barman insists is the day America was born again.

On a very primal level, it is because of Repeal Day that you and I can enjoy a bloody Mary and an Irish coffee, then a mimosa and a glass of sauvignon blanc, then a pitcher of Trumer Pilsner and a shot of Tequila and a dram of Scotch. However, Repeal Day signifies much more than one's choice of beverage, as it relies upon the uniquely American philosophy of personal liberty. Thomas Jefferson, over 100 years prior, wrote, "I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences of too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it." Me too, Tom. Me too.

I very much enjoy the aspects and hours of urbanity, in particular the enjoyments of our culinary City, much of which is supported by the sale of alcohol. And it's this selling of alcohol that deeply contributes to the language and community in our San Francisco Bay Area. Running a small business, I am very aware of this; as I imagine thousands of other entrepreneurs are, who offer jobs to millions more, all because of Repeal Day. This extends to the corn farmer in Nebraska who is sustained by selling his crop to the Jack Daniel's distillery and the Saturday evening dishwasher at Gary Danko. I testify, it is because of Repeal Day David Nepove is Mr. Mojito. Ed Hamilton runs the Ministry of Rum because of Repeal Day. Camper English pontificates Alcademics because of Repeal Day. Eugenio Jardim is San Francisco's sassiest sommelier because of Repeal Day.

Lance Winters distills Hangar One vodka because of Repeal Day. Robert 'Bobby' Cook opened the original C. Bobby's Owl Tree because of Repeal Day. Scott Beattie created Artisanal Cocktails: Drinks Inspired by the Seasons from the Bar at Cyrus because of Repeal Day. Charles Neal. Julio Bermejo. Kermit Lynch. Marcovaldo Dionysus and Marco Karakasevic. Jacques B. and Dom V. and Hans P. Wolfgang Weber and Jon Bonné. The Speakeasy Brewery and the 209 distillery. And, of course, R Bar.

Without Repeal Day there would have been no Studio 54, no Last Word, no Sex on the Beach, no Rolling Rock, or Buttery Chardonnay. No Jungle Juice, Keg Stands, or Beer Bongs. Two Buck Chuck. Less Filling, Tastes Great. Shaken, not stirred. Beer pong, breathalyzers, and DUIs. Sam Malone and Cliff Claven. Bottle Service, and Gin & Juice. James Bond. "I get off at 4AM." Jack Kerouac, William Saroyan, and Charles Bukowski. Jell-O shots, and malt liquor. Cosmopolitans and F***$n merlot! No NOPA, no Alembic, no Bourbon & Branch. Sommeliers. Bar managers. Bartenders! AA. 86'd. Chilled shots of Patron. "Would you like a beer back with that?" Modern Drunkard or Mr. Boston. Wine coolers or wine bars. The revival of the Sazerac-Manhattan-Negroni-Aviation-Pisco Punch-Caipirinha. Hooters. Alabama Slammers. White zinfandel. Zima. The King Of Beers.

Without Repeal Day, there would never have been a Happy Hour.

One of my favorite writers is William Saroyan, who spent much of his life living in San Francisco. Saroyan, in 1938, wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning play, The Time of Your Life, set in a saloon on our very own Pacific Street. A mere six years after Prohibition had been repealed, on Broadway, Saroyan achieved one of the greatest honors in American letters by staging life in an alcohol-induced setting. (Carry Nation, eat your heart out.) In his preface to the script, Saroyan wrote, "In the time of your life, live, so that in that good time there shall be no ugliness or death for yourself or for any life your life touches." In this time of change for our country, Saroyan's words resound loud and clear.

Recently, a friend who peddles wines and spirits by day, remarked, "I feel as though I'm not contributing much anymore. I don't create new experiences or changes in peoples lives." I buy a lot of hooch for my bar from this friend, and I said to him; "Kieran, on Election Night, Cantina broadcasted the results to a crowd of hundreds. It was a night many people will never forget. We went through three cases of Champagne in three hours. You sold me that Champagne. Because of you, people were able to celebrate. You helped to give them a night they will never forget."

This Friday, why not repeal a restriction or two in your life; breathe in the nose of a lusty cabernet, the deep peat of an Islay Scotch or the tartness of a pitcher of Margaritas with friends; if there's something we can be deeply proud of and grateful for, it's Repeal Day.