Drinking Issue

Booze and Strippers

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The Ballard Booze Legend

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Once Upon a Time in America...

Drinking While Black

How Are They Doing?

Past Help

Yet Another Modest Proposal

Police Beat Special Edition

Seattle isn't thought of as an alcohol-friendly town, but believe it or not, Seattle used to be even more hostile to booze.

In 1914, a religious group called the national Anti-Saloon League (ASL), which had been waging war all over the country against saloons and drinking since 1893, descended on Seattle. In the years before Congress passed the Prohibition amendment in 1919, the ASL persuaded states such as Oklahoma, Alabama, and Georgia to outlaw saloons. Though many counties in Washington state were already dry, Seattle was pretty wet. Determined to change that, the ASL ran a citywide initiative campaign to ban booze and bars in Seattle.

The fight to pass Initiative 3 was one of Seattle's first major political battles. On the pro I-3 side, churches raised money, ministers gave round-the-clock sermons, and tight-assed citizens put signs on their lawns. The First Presbyterian Church of Seattle was I-3's biggest supporter. In The Dry Years: Prohibition and Social Change in Washington, author Norman H. Clark reports that Reverend Mark Matthews of the First Presbyterian attacked the saloon as "the most fiendish, corrupt, and hell-soaked institution that ever crawled out of the slime of the eternal pit." According to Matthews, the saloon "[takes] your sweet innocent daughter, robs her of her virtue, and transforms her into a brazen, wanton harlot."

Both of Seattle's daily papers, the Seattle Post Intelligencer and The Seattle Times, were against I-3. "Seattle does not need to swallow this nauseous dose," said Times editor "Colonel" Alden J. Blethen. Blethen offered $1,000 in gold to anyone who could make a reasonable argument in defense of I-3. The weekly at the time, the Town Crier, said I-3 was an attack on "property rights and of revenues upon which state, county, city, and school district now depend."

To the dismay of Seattle saloon owners and drunks, I-3 passed. Most saloons went out of business quickly, but individuals were still allowed to consume alcohol in their homes. The Merchants Café, a Pioneer Square saloon that still exists, converted itself into a restaurant. Other saloons were converted into drugstores and soft-drink shops where bootlegged liquor was sold.

A few years after Seattle went dry, the 18th Amendment was ratified, making it illegal to possess, sell, or consume alcohol anywhere in the country. Prohibition was a disaster, of course, and millions of dollars flowed into the hands of criminal networks that supplied Americans with alcohol. The 18th Amendment was repealed in 1933, and Seattle was officially wet again.

So the next time your friends bitch about not being able to get a drink at 3:00 a.m., remind them that it could be worse.