Cocktail hour in 1920

25 Jul

I turn west toward Times Square. This is the “cocktail hour”, when the bars of the big hotels once were lined with tired business men, three deep, seeking balm after a hard day’s labor in those American achievements, the Bronx, the Clover Club, the Royal Smile. The doors of the regal bar, at the Times Square corner, with its Parrish painting of “Old King Cole” are grimly closed. The bar has been transformed into an overflow bedroom, a clerk tells me sadly. I go on up toward another famous resort at the “cocktail hour”; it displays the sign “Soda”. I peep in. There is a magnificent soda bar, and dainty tables scattered about a daintily decorated room, with dainty Chinese damsels in kimonos waiting to serve you to the latest elaborations in sodaed and iced drinks and candied and chocolate drinks. Soda, soda, soda, and candy-shops! I suddenly realize that just as almost every other door used to sport the sign “Café”, our euphemism for bar, now almost every other sign here in Times Square is “Candy, Soda”. The righteous war mood that gave us prohibition was strengthened by substantial contributions from the soft-drink and candy-makers, I have heard it suggested. If so, no money was ever more shrewdly spent.

Across the street is another great hotel. Yes, the bar is still here, but the glittering array of bottles has vanished. Behind the bar, in a far corner, lurks a single dejected aproned person. Do they call them bartenders now?

“What have you got to drink?” I whisper.

“Ginger-ale,” he proposes sadly, “pluto water, grape juice—“

I turn away. Yes, prohibition has come to New York.

— Webb Waldron, “Where is America going?, III”, The Century, 100:3 (July 1920), 425-32 (428).


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