Prohibition-Era Cocktails Worth Drinking Today

Cocktails!If you were just punching out of work on a cold December night in 1873 and in need of some liquid refreshment, you would have rounded the corner to your local Ohio watering hole only to be greeted by 200 women kneeling on the sidewalk, clad in black, praying.

Now you really need a drink.

With men over the age of 15 knocking back an average of 7 gallons of pure alcohol per year (that's 3 times what we drink today!), the ladies had had enough. This act of "radical civil disobedience" would have still been considered within the bounds of acceptable 19th century female behavior, explains historian Catherine Murdock in the documentary Prohibition, and the temperance movement spread "like wildfire" across the country. Buoyed by support from various churches, the Women's Christian Temperance Union became a force to be reckoned with through the end of that century, but it was the Anti-Saloon League efforts that made sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol illegal in the 18th Amendment that went into effect at 12:01AM January 17, 1920. Cocktail hour was officially over.

Young women celebrate the end of prohibitionBut while hooch might have been officially off the menu, enthusiasm for simple, potent libations was very much still shaken and stirred. "There really did seem to be a proliferation of wonderful and amusing drinks during this period," says Lesley M. M. Blume, author of Let's Bring Back: The Cocktail Edition,"which is ironic, considering that no one was supposed to be drinking anything at all." But drink they did, small-sized cocktails that belied their power, and drinks we agree are most certainly worth bringing back.

After 13 years of the U.S. calling itself "dry," prohibition was sent packing when the 21st Amendment went into effect on December 5, 1933. Our country could tipple merrily again. In honor of the end of that dark era, we toast to some of the most inventive, wry, and delicious-sounding cocktails knocked back in brave opposition to prohibition. Bottoms up!

During the 1920s, a menagerie of animal-inspired expressions were used to mean "you're the absolute best." In addition to "the cat's pajamas," "the elephant's instep," and "the snake's hips," one buzzy idiom won a drink all its own. Fun fact: The added teaspoon of honey supposedly masks the smell of booze in this prohibition favorite, writes Blume.

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 ounce gin
ice cubes

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled glass.

"Everyone knows about the curative qualities of an old-fashioned hot toddy," writes Blume, "but it's a pansy drink compared to the Flu Cocktail." A favorite at the New York City speakeasy The 19th Hole, if this drink doesn't annihilate your symptoms, "it will knock you unconscious until the illness has runs its course."

2 ounces rye
1 teaspoon ginger brandy
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon rock candy syrup
1 dash ginger extract

Stir and strain into a cocktail glass.

As you would expect in an era of suddenly short hemlines and haircuts, "People loved to scandalize in the 1920s," says Blume. A suggestively named cocktail like this one is par for the course (and practically PG compared to others) and makes a perfect nightcap a deux.

3/4 ounce light rum
3/4 ounce brandy
3/4 ounce cointreau
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
ice cubes

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Unsavory as the name may sound to our modern ears, this cocktail's moniker would have sounded to its contemporary tipplers like the sing-song refrain of Jazz Age cartoon Betty Boop, explains Blume.

1/2 ounce rum
1/2 ounce dry gin
1/2 ounce Swedish punsch
1 dash apricot brandy
ice cubes

Shake with ice, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Once a favorite at New York City's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, mix this drink up when you "need a break from the white noise of modern times. It's been proven to quiet the most egregious of loud-talkers and monolguers," writes Blume.

3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
3/4 ounce gin
3/4 ounce apricot brandy
ice cubes

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.


Another charmingly-named tipple from an era rife with colorful expressions. A not-messing-around ingredients list leads us to believe the ants are quelled rather than created with a sip of this drink.

1 ounce gin
1/2 ounce grand marnier
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
1 dash fresh lemon juice
ice cubes
1 lemon peel twist for garnish

Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass, Garnish with the lemon peel twist.

All cocktails from Let's Bring Back: The Cocktail Edition.