Thursday, October 1, 2020

Unintended consequences (or the world's worst sandwich)

Stanley - Thursday

In the aftermath of the chaos of Tuesday night, I've been trying to find some calm and humour in my life. My nephew, Ivor, provided some of that yesterday by sharing a podcast titled There is no such thing as a didgeridoo in a bar.

As we are all aware, there have been many efforts over the years to clamp down on the consumption of alcohol, particularly on Sundays. In many countries, for example, buying bottles of booze on Sundays was illegal. And maybe still is.

The subject of the podcast was the New York State liquor tax law promulgated in March, 1896. It became known as Raines Law, after the State Senator who pushed hard for its enactment. I'm sure Ivor sent it to me because our middle name is Raynes, our great grandmother's maiden name. (Ivor was never very good at spelling!)

Anyway, in order to suppress excess drinking on Sundays, which was most people's only day off, the Act increased liquor taxes dramatically, raised the drinking age from 16 to 18, and limited the consumption of alcohol on Sundays to hotels and boarding houses that had at least 10 rooms that served drinks with complementary meals. Needless to say this had a profound impact on Sunday celebrations.

For a few weeks!

Then bar owners found a solution. They either teamed up with boarding houses nearby or divided basements or attics into 10 of the smallest rooms imaginable. In the six months after the law was promulgated, the number of hotels went from 13 to 800 in Brooklyn alone. That took care of one aspect of the law - the nature of the establishment.

To deal with the serving of complementary meals, they started providing sandwiches with each drink bought. Of course they didn't want to spend much money on this because it would eat into the profits. So some offered two slices of stale bread with a rubber filling, some used a brick filling, while others delivered a sandwich with the drink, then took it away immediately to deliver to the next customer. Some sandwiches were known to last several weeks.

On at least one occasion, a customer actually wanted a sandwich and called the police when the proprietor wanted to take it away. The police gave the sandwich back to the proprietor and didn't press charges.

To the chagrin of the promoters of the Raines Law, it had even more unsavoury consequences. The sudden availability of rooms next to drinking establishments resulted in a sharp uptick of Sunday prostitution and of the rooms being used by unmarried couples (gasp!).

A Raines hotel even made it into mainstream literature, because Eugene O'Neill set his The Iceman Cometh in one. In it, he described a Raines sandwich as 'an old desicated ruin of dust-laden bread and mummified ham or cheese.' 

Needless to say, these work-arounds were not popular with John Raines and his supporters, one of whom was Theodore Roosevelt. Over time, the laws were tightened, ultimately resulting in prohibition. And we all know how successful that was.

Theodore Roosevelt cracked down on vice.

Weather update

Last night and continuing this morning, Cape Town enjoyed another of its very windy days. For an earlier blog, including amazing videos, about the Cape Doctor as the wind is known, click here.

I was recently added with some trepidation to a local safety watch group that communicates via WhatsApp. This morning, my phone has been beeping continually with posts from the group. Here are some:

"Anyone lose this chair seat?"

"Our entire Sukkah has blown away. It was tied down by thick straps & the wind still managed to snap the straps."

"Half of our wooden deck has come off and blown away!"

"I have a video of an ambitious trampoline ambling down Avenue Normandie in the early hours!"

"Anyone lost a pool cover?"

"Anyone missing some garden furniture? It's on our roof!!!"

"Has anyone found my Sukkah?"

As far as I know, no one was hurt by flying debris.


  1. Garden furniture on the roof?

    Humor helps these days to perhaps take my mind of a pandemic, white supremacy, voter suppression and a threat to democracy. So I'll make a contribution to the thread on Prohibition. My great uncle, George Newcomb, was the rascal of the family, despite his twinkly blue eyes.
    During Prohibition, he would drive to Canada in a hearse with his spouse, Fanny, and my father, masquerading as his son. They were "going to a funeral."
    George would load up the hearse with liquor and drive back oveer the border back to New Haven, Conn. As far as I know, he never got caught.
    He was also a bookie and participated in the sting upon which the movie was based. He wrote the racing results on the chalkboard.

  2. While I was training in London, the hostel i stayed at left out a teapot of cold tea and a slice of cold toast in the morning. They were was often still there the next day. This was because, if a multi tenanted building offered breakfast it became a hotel and could get rid of guests easier!

  3. As the current owner of a farm with rural roots tracing back a couple centuries through days (and nights) as a bar, restaurant, and brothel (I'm talking about the farm, not the farmer), I can relate to the entrepreneurial spirit that inspired such cool ways of escaping the prohibitionists. I can also sympathize with the Cape Town reside nts out searching for their Sukkah. Personally, I'd opt for a bar...with a hookah.