Thanksgiving 1933: ‘The First Time That Devil’s Brew Hit My Lips’

Prohibition had just been repealed in Illinois on Thanksgiving 1933. At age 21, Studs Terkel had his first taste of what he calls “the devil’s brew.” His first drink was alongside the residents of the Wells-Grand Hotel, a men’s hotel near Washington Square Park that his mother owned. His mother decided to have Thanksgiving dinner with everyone that year since many of them didn’t have anyone else to celebrate with. 

Technically, Prohibition was officially repealed at the federal level on December 4, 1933. This ended at 13-year-long ban of alcohol throughout the country. However, for those 13 years, banning alcohol only led to more crime, especially in Chicago. Gangsters ran the city with their bootlegging businesses. 

While Studs doesn’t speak about gangsters and bootlegging in this clip, he does talk about the men who frequented his mother’s hotel. In a 1995 piece for the Chicago Tribune, he described these men as “rough and ready” who “had been seafarers, working the oceans as well as the Great Lakes.” His parents ran the hotel until 1936 and it closed as a boarding house in 1995. 

 

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