Stateside: A good city for a drink

Oct 24, 2012

Imagine going to your pharmacy to fill a keg of hard cider.

Such was reality in 19th century Detroit.

Stateside’s Cyndy Canty spoke with Bill Loomis, writer for the Detroit News, about the city’s history of dedicated drinking.

“You could get liquor almost anywhere. Pharmacies sold liquor. You would bring in your container and they would fill it up and charge you,” said Loomis.

According to Loomis, the settlers switched from brandy to whiskey when Americans improved their operation techniques. Still, brandy was popular throughout Detroit, due largely in part to its French heritage.

“The French people were not Puritans. They liked to dance,” said Loomis.

It was a time when drinking spanned generations. Hands both doughy and wrinkled could be seen gripping a glass of rum.

“Everybody drank and they drank all the time. Kids drank. Grandma drank,” said Loomis.

Such alcoholic fervor, says Loomis, was largely a result of the city’s lack of access to clean water.

“Water sources were rank. They were brought in from the Detroit River,” said Loomis.

When Prohibition passed in 1917, some Detroiters took to bootlegging.

On this topic, Loomis said, “That’s always been an issue for Detroit because of our proximity to Canada. The rum-runners in Detroit were at their peak for only about a year and a half. There was also booze coming up from Toledo. It was impossible to stop.”

Prohibition endured for 13 years.

But in 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt repealed the Amendment and said, “I think this would be a good time for a beer.”

Detroiters probably agreed.

-Cameron Stewart

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