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The Saloon: Public Drinking in Chicago and Boston, 1880-1920

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This colorful and perceptive study presents persuasive evidence that the saloon, far from being a magnet for vice and crime, played an important role in working-class community life. Focusing on public drinking in "wide open" Chicago and tightly controlled Boston, Duis offers a provocative discussion of the saloon as a social institution and a locus of the struggle between This colorful and perceptive study presents persuasive evidence that the saloon, far from being a magnet for vice and crime, played an important role in working-class community life. Focusing on public drinking in "wide open" Chicago and tightly controlled Boston, Duis offers a provocative discussion of the saloon as a social institution and a locus of the struggle between middle-class notions of privacy and working-class uses of public space.  


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This colorful and perceptive study presents persuasive evidence that the saloon, far from being a magnet for vice and crime, played an important role in working-class community life. Focusing on public drinking in "wide open" Chicago and tightly controlled Boston, Duis offers a provocative discussion of the saloon as a social institution and a locus of the struggle between This colorful and perceptive study presents persuasive evidence that the saloon, far from being a magnet for vice and crime, played an important role in working-class community life. Focusing on public drinking in "wide open" Chicago and tightly controlled Boston, Duis offers a provocative discussion of the saloon as a social institution and a locus of the struggle between middle-class notions of privacy and working-class uses of public space.  

32 review for The Saloon: Public Drinking in Chicago and Boston, 1880-1920

  1. 5 out of 5

    Brian Anton

    Perry R. Duis’ The Saloon: Public Drinking in Chicago and Boston, 1880-1920 is an interpretive history of the Saloon’s role in society in those two towns. His thesis is that, “the barroom evolved as a social, political, and economic institution” and that “local traditions, ethnic preferences, and business conditions shaped the regulation of the liquor trade in a patchwork of contrasts” (5-6). In the book, he explains the way that government regulation (or the lack of it) swayed the way that liqu Perry R. Duis’ The Saloon: Public Drinking in Chicago and Boston, 1880-1920 is an interpretive history of the Saloon’s role in society in those two towns. His thesis is that, “the barroom evolved as a social, political, and economic institution” and that “local traditions, ethnic preferences, and business conditions shaped the regulation of the liquor trade in a patchwork of contrasts” (5-6). In the book, he explains the way that government regulation (or the lack of it) swayed the way that liquor industry was run in large cities. The book begins by explaining the role of saloons in Chicago and Boston. Chicago, a mostly German city, was more a beer consuming culture, opposing Boston, where Irish made up a majority of the population and where liquor dominated alcohol sales. Duis explains the reason for choosing the two towns was because they shared certain similarities with the fact that they both grew quickly, had problems dealing with that growth, and they both shared the issues that came from having a large gap between rich and poor. Next, he explains the change from the Saloon being a place where any entrepreneur could get a start and become successful to one dominated by the will of the breweries who gained control of the industry. The breweries consolidated power by cooperating with each other and setting prices, guaranteeing profits. This worked in Boston because the government strictly regulated alcohol distribution but in Chicago it was different. Chicago had lax regulation of liquor laws creating too large of a supply for the demand in the city. Brewer’s cooperatives failed because of the ease for somebody to undercut their price setting tactics. The cooperatives failures allowed foreign investment, especially from Britain where investors looked for stable industry. They bought large sectors of the market, only to fail in the same way that the cooperatives did. Though many of the consortiums failed, larger brewers were able to stave off low prices and eventually forced saloonkeepers to be at their beck and call by buying up real estate and renting it too them. If they did not make the rent because they were not selling enough of the brewer’s product, they would be evicted and the brewer would find somebody else to sell their product. The entrepreneurs faced their own issues, especially economically. They had to deal with expensive license fees from the cities, mortgage payments (many times to the brewery), prices from the brewer, high grocery expenses (caused by laws that dictated that drinkers had to eat a meal, usually free), and high insurance rates (because saloonkeepers lived an unhealthy lifestyle, and had a high rate of business failure). Saloons in Boston did better than those in Chicago because of the cities limit on liquor licenses, and with that a limit to the supply of drinking establishments. Duis points out that the Saloon was often the centerpiece of neighborhoods in large cities and was frequented by the poor who needed a public place to supplement their lives outside of work. Obviously, there were those in the Temperance Movement that attempted to change the way that urban society lived. Religious missionaries tried to push for city-dwellers toward self-preservation and keep them out of the bar. The movement had some effect in the late nineteenth century but did not take hold because people did not want to drink in the privacy of their homes but do it as a social activity. On the other side of the problems saloons faced, they did not need to worry about local politicians taking them down. In most cities, saloonkeepers had enough sway in politics to keep local governments from overregulation of liquor interests. The bar as the aforementioned centerpiece of social life in cities was also the home of gossip and news of the day. Most news was spread in the barroom and the saloonkeeper was highly visible to more people than any other business owner. He could influence what type of information was put out and could sway an election by standing behind a candidate. Obviously, this type of politics was frowned on by social reformers because it was seen as one of the many problems with politics in the era. Reformers found another qualm in the fact that saloon owners were often involved in lives of crime. Duis calls the saloon “The Public Melting Pot” in a chapter title and “a mirror of city life” (170). He writes that saloons took the personality of the ethnicity in neighborhoods and the lifestyles that accompanied them. Its public image would eventually lead to its fall. Because it became the center of crime and the negative image of public drinking, there was a bad stigma following it forcing politicians to isolate themselves from it. World War I and prohibition would eventually kill the saloon as a profitable business and make it disappear. Reviewers of The Saloon write that it is a very informative piece of social history, and forces readers and historians to reexamine of the success of the Temperance Movement. They also write that the book is thoroughly researched and is successful in accomplishing proof for its thesis that the drinking lifestyle had social and political effects. There are two evident criticisms of the work: that its prose does not match the interesting subject matter, and that Duis relies on social theory for much of his proof about the correct stereotyping of the lifestyle in the saloons. Though reviewers criticize Duis for a lack of colorful writing, his book tells the story of the saloon-keeper and entrepreneur in an interesting light. He allows you to put yourself in the often downtrodden place through the two swinging doors and the era where public drinking was accepted for the most part. Most drinking was not done in the home in the era, and people would go there to supplement their social life after working a fourteen hour day. The book has its place in historical writing because it relates saloons with city life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The saloon can be seen as a mirror of society; bad working conditions left workers longing for a drink and something to take their mind off of what they went through at their job. Overall, The Saloon gives an interesting perspective on city life and puts the reader through the ups and downs of those who owned them and frequented them for entertainment.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Will Hunter

    Excellent history of Chicago and the Saloons in Chicago. After reading it I suggest going to a real saloon called Schaller's Pump, 37th and Halstead, Chicago, IL. Interesting perspective on Chicago History. Excellent history of Chicago and the Saloons in Chicago. After reading it I suggest going to a real saloon called Schaller's Pump, 37th and Halstead, Chicago, IL. Interesting perspective on Chicago History.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    Interesting analysis of the evolution of public drinking in Massachusetts and Chicago. Many funny insights into the reasons for local variations in the patterns of drinking and economics of running a Saloon in those cities before prohibition.

  4. 4 out of 5

    E

    Research for work, believe it or not.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Joanna

  6. 5 out of 5

    Alice Kassens

  7. 5 out of 5

    Bert Nagel

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    Joe

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    Abi

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    Ron Johnson

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    Jack

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    Elena

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    Jim Parker

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    Asails F

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    Robin

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    scott

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    Colleen

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    DJ Yossarian

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    Wendy Wicks

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    Dan Hogan

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    Jafka

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    Lacey

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    Joy

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    Margaret

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    Scooby

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    Andy

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    Bonnie

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    Tiger Holland

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    Anna

  30. 5 out of 5

    Lulubell Luvs

  31. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Trask

  32. 5 out of 5

    Lindsey

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