The Old-Time Saloon – Just History, for the Season

It’s the holiday season and you may be tempted to tipple a few beverages of the alcoholic variety. It seems like a good opportunity to provide you with a drinking story. Something you can relate to your friends as you lift a glass to the spirit of the season.

Prohibition is little discussed today except in history classes. But if you’re interested in the still relevant political arguments that led to Prohibition in the first place, read the 1931 book The Old-Time Saloon: Not Wet, Not Dry—Just History by George Ade (1866-1944). The American Heritage Center’s Toppan Library has a copy.

During the 19th century and early 20th century there were saloons aplenty, in fact it was not uncommon to find one saloon for every 150 to 200 Americans, including those who did not drink. Competition was fierce among saloon-keepers and some brought gambling and prostitution into their establishments to increase the profit margin.

As you can imagine, the religious community was not pleased with these developments. Groups such as the Anti-Saloon League led the charge to end the booze business. Prohibition leaders, called “drys”, believed that once license to do business was removed from the liquor traffic, churches and reform organizations would enjoy an opportunity to persuade Americans to give up drink. One result was that many communities in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries introduced alcohol prohibition. When the 18th amendment was ratified in 1919, prohibition supporters presented it as a victory for public morals and health.

Ade, a famous journalist and Broadway playwright, liked to drink as much as the next fella (unless that fella was a “dry”). He supported the movement to end the “noble experiment” of Prohibition.

Sneaking In

Illustration by Gluyas Williams on page 21 of Ade’s book. The illustration appeared in Cosmopolitan magazine.

In Old-Time Saloon, Ade provides his fellow Americans with a nostalgic look at saloon-life since many people in 1931 had never set foot in one due to age, gender, politics, or religion. He takes the liquor industry and saloon owners to task for complacency, flouting the law, and bringing on their own demise. To do this, he employs a parable involving a goat. Yes, that’s goat.

In the last chapter of the book, Ade writes,

Legend has it that, at about the beginning of the present century, a vagabond goat, of most bedraggled appearance and with the upholstery worn off at every corner, ranged through the alleys and by-ways of the redlight district of Chicago. He was tolerated and humored and indulged…The police hobnobbed with him and permitted him to butt small boys off the sidewalk…He was living in a goat’s paradise, the happy pet of wild women and midnight rounders. He was perfectly adjusted to his environment.

One day a flock of sheep came along 22nd Street and the goat fell in with his cousins, saying to himself, “I’ll stick along. This looks like a big party somewhere.” He didn’t believe he had an enemy in the world…So he rambled along with the gang, bleating cheerfully, and presently found himself in a long chute, with the crowd pushing from behind. He could not turn back. Being a natural-born goat he made no attempt to escape. Impelled by curiosity which is the only redeeming trait of all goats, human and otherwise, he passed into a slaughter-house. Next day, goat was being served for mutton…

Now, you ask, what does a goat have to do with a saloon in the pre-Prohibition era? As Ade explains,

The goat in the parable could not understand why any one should drive him up a chute and tap him on the head with a sledge hammer. The average low-brow saloon keeper could not believe that he was headed for destruction. He didn’t worry until the butcher cut him down—and then it was too late enter a protest.


Illustration by Harold Tucker “H.T.” Webster on page 121 of Ade’s book.

There’s more to Ade’s story, of course. We suggest you take a look at the book. And, as you go to your local watering hole and lift a glass of your favorite craft beer, artisanal cocktail, or whatever, feel thankful that the goat was released from the chute in 1933 when Prohibition was repealed.

The Toppan Library is home to the University of Wyoming’s rare books collection, consisting of over 50,000 items and is sponsored by the Clara Toppan endowment. The majority of the materials are printed books, although there are newspapers, magazines, broadsides, illuminated manuscripts, and other materials. Collecting subjects include the American West, British and American Literature, Exploration and Travel, Religion, Hunting and Fishing, historic children’s books, and examples of the book arts. Some books are currently available through an online catalog search, while other books are available through a traditional card catalog located in the Toppan Library. Appointments are required. Please contact the AHC’s Reference Services to make an appointment at 307-766-3756 or

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