Alexis Ellers

Partygoers, dressed in 1920s attire, enjoyed live period music and craft cocktails at the Historical Society of Forest Park’s prohibition fundraiser. Held in the side room of O’Sullivan’s, 7244 Madison St., the evening’s entertainment “celebrated” the Jan. 20, 1920 Volstead Act while learning about the impacts on Forest Park through a slideshow featuring some of the early saloons in town — and had a swinging time doing so.

According to the Historical Society’s presentation, Forest Park had 42 saloons when the 18th Amendment was passed to prohibit “intoxicating liquors” in the United States. The National Prohibition Act prohibited the “manufacture, sale or transportation of intoxicating liquors” anywhere in the country. 

Nearly 30 Forest Park saloons closed their doors or went into another line of business after the passage of the law a century ago. On Jan. 20, 1920, the Volstead Act was passed to provide federal enforcement of the law.

While Forest Park, along with Berwyn and Cicero, was one of the local “wet” towns, neighboring Oak Park, River Forest, Maywood and Riverside were all “dry.” The loss to the village was steep, as each tavern paid $500 for a license. To make up for the loss of revenue, the village doubled the water rate and increased other taxes.

Taverns were social centers, exclusively inhabited by men, and generally quite peaceful. There were no TVs or recorded music, so conversation was the entertainment, and profanity was rarely tolerated back then. If there was a disagreement, the bartender would wave a club and that would usually settle things down. 

In 1908, the Oak Leaves newspaper reported troubles with Oak Park “roomers” loitering in their business districts. Police would tell the young fellows to “move on,” and they would. Apparently, these fellows would “move on” by crossing the “line” into Forest Park’s saloon community. The taverns reportedly had “doors wide open,” with cozy tables, perhaps music and someone to talk to. If only they purchase a glass or so of beer, they are treated as if they were really some personage.”

Based on several federal raids in town at taverns, restaurants, in garages and in homes, it is fair to say that the liquor was still flowing in Forest Park in the 1920s. 

And it still is today.

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