Happy New Year’s—Cheers to the New ‘20’s

Happy New Year’s—Cheers to the New ‘20’s

Happy New Year’s—Cheers to the New ‘20’s

Prohibition didn’t officially begin until January 16, 1920, but everyone celebrating New Year’s Eve in Chicago on December 31, 1919 was celebrating as though it were the last toasted New Year they’d ever live to see.  Although it could be largely classified as a fun funeral, the Chicago PD made sure the parties across the City ended relatively early, with thirteen establishments cited for staying open past 1:00AM.

Throughout the City, hotels reported that they were at capacity with many more people seeking reservations.  Bars and night clubs hired extra waiters to prepare for the onslaught of celebrants.  According to the Chicago Daily Tribune’s article on December 25, 1919, each waiter in the city expected to earn between $20 and $25 for tending bar and serving food on New Year’s Eve—yes, that staggering sum included both wages and tips.  The City, though, reportedly spent one million dollars preparing for the celebration.

Late in the week of New Year’s, the legal counsel for the City of Chicago declared that hip flasks were searchable under the City’s search and seizure law.  Hotel and saloon owners, though, vowed to look the other way if guests carried their own liquor to the establishments.

At least one gentleman celebrating New Year’s didn’t live to see Prohibition.  The Chicago Daily Tribune reported that Hans Schubert made a final toast near midnight on December 31, 1919, tossed back his shot of whiskey and immediately dropped dead.  Perhaps he couldn’t stand the thought of living through the dry era.

Revelers celebrating the arrival of the 1920’s couldn’t imagine the changes that would come with the new era.  The rise of the mafia and bootleggers, the shortening of skirts and hair, and the introduction of jazz into Chicago would change the city for another century.  After World War I, the revelers celebrated a future of peace, with no idea what laid ahead.  Perhaps that’s what we’re doing now and maybe someday one hundred years in the future, someone will remark on what changes began in the 2020’s.

Everyone waking up with a hangover on January 1, 1920 knew that next year’s celebration would be different, but it would have been impossible for anyone to guess that booze would be supplied by the soon-to-be notorious Al Capone.  It might have seemed strange to anticipate that sooner rather than later, they would be entering speakeasies through green doors, making their way to the back of once reputable stores to order liquor through a window in the back.  It would have been inconceivable that day to fathom that the City’s police force would be outmanned and outgunned by mobsters and that crime would spike after America fully enacted the “Noble Experiment.”

Chicago on January 1, 1920 was very different than what it would be even just one year later.  Just remember, not everything has changed, and you still can’t take your hip flask into your favorite Chicago watering hole.  And tip your bartenders, Chicago, there’s nowhere in this City you can drink for $25!

Written by Amy Williams

Book Now