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AMERICA WALKS INTO A BAR by Christine Sismondo

AMERICA WALKS INTO A BAR

A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops

By Christine Sismondo

Pub Date: July 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-19-973495-5
Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Belly up to a scholarly treatise on the evolution of the barroom.

Sismondo’s sophisticated narrative on the cocktail (Mondo Cocktail, 2005) could be considered a primer course for this companion volume, her “pub crawl through American history.” This three-part exploration of the bar—an institution where culture, politics, law enforcement, prejudice and gender bias all had a hand in its genesis—begins with the traditional taverns of the early colonial era. These establishments assisted travelers as a Puritanical way-station and concurrently formed vital social and political networks, yet were plagued by rampant drunkenness. Sismondo also plumbs George Washington’s Whiskey Rebellion resistance movement as it paved the way for the president’s political popularity. The author includes whimsical doggerel, diary entries and a wealth of significant historical milestones like Prohibition, the controversial presence of women in pubs and a particularly illuminating chapter devoted to bars like San Francisco’s Black Cat and the Stonewall Inn, where the gay community fought for, and eventually won, the freedom to associate. The author lucidly discusses more recent changes in bar culture as well. Cigarette legislation, for instance, caused a whole new set of complications by forcing smokers outside, often causing restaurant and bar patios and sidewalks to become noisy neighborhood nuisances, while the newly smoke-free air inside made it safe for children to accompany their parents. Sismondo’s passion for her subject matter is evident in both her comprehensive research and in short anecdotes on her own initiation to the bar culture as a child accompanying her parents to lounge-friendly client meetings on business trips and, later, working in the local Toronto pub community. These personal sections and the author’s spirited prose add personality to text that, to casual readers, could seem dry.

A robust homage to the history and proliferation of bars and their vast and often overlooked cultural significance.