Thursty: ‘Drinking Boston’ conjures up the old spirits of the city’s lush history
Drinking in the Hub has come full circle. So says Stephanie Schorow, author of the enlightening new book, “Drinking Bos-ton: A History of the City and its Spirits” (Union Park Press).
In just one example, Scho-row details how Boston — once a hotbed of beer production, with some 30 breweries in the area before Prohibition — has been reclaiming its sudsy reputation with the proliferation of craft brewers in recent years.
Throughout the research process, she dug through historical archives and old newspaper accounts and spoke with the city’s drinking experts and historians (the least impressive of which being your humble reporter). The book sheds light on the revolutionary-era taverns and saloons and their role in the political process, Prohibition-era gangsters and the 20th century nightclub boom in the city, all subjects that are probably only vaguely familiar to most of us, but ones which feel quite contemporary.
“Along the way we make stops at famous saloons in Boston, like McGreevy’s Tavern — probably the first sports bar — [and] go into speakeasies during Prohibition,”?she says. “The idea is to look at where people drink, what they drink and why they drink.”
What drew her to the project? It seemed like a chance to drink a lot, she jokes.
“Actually, there was a lot more research than there was drinking. Once you start getting below the surface, you find pretty interesting factoids and people.”
She says uncovering stories of temperance workers, criminals and barflies who fill in the cracks of our illustrious and sometimes dangerous history was one of the most appealing aspects of writing this book. They drank so that we may do so today.
Have a beer with history
Among her favorite personalities was temperance activist Cora France Stod-dard. “I just fell in love with this woman. She was just a woman ahead of her time. She was on the wrong end of history. Had this been another era she would’ve become a social worker or a researcher or a political leader. But because of the restrictions on women, and the fact that she was ill a lot of her life, she chose the temperance movement. She was one of these fascinating unknown people in Boston, very well known in her day, but has been lost history.”
Favorite bar of the past?
Places like the Pioneer Club in the South End were very appealing to Schorow: “It was kind of an after-hours club. Of all the places that are gone, that’s the place I would’ve liked to go. It was a black jazz club, but everyone went there: reporters, mobsters, politicians — Billie Holiday might show up. It was after Prohibition, but you had to knock on door, had to know someone to get in. It closed at four in morning.”