Prohibition in Rochester: An Era at It’s End

Prohibition in Rochester: An Era at It’s End

Toward the end of Prohibition, the people of our lovely city became even more blatant in their refusal to get in line with the law of the land. Yes, from the very beginning, many bars refused to close their doors, and there were even reports of speakeasy’s being run by the son of a police captain. Still, what ultimately spelled the end of prohibition was the public perception of subsequent rise in crime that the law created. Crimes that weren’t just being committed by gangsters and thugs, but also by elected officials and public servants.

Throughout the time Prohibition was in effect, the majority of the Rochester population skirted the law. Yeah, the police busted up speakeasies and illegal distilleries on a weekly basis, but the fact is, it was all just a show. Alfio Boscarino was Rochester’s self-proclaimed “King of Bootleggers.” He operated a 3,000 gallon distillery on Sander St. In the year 1927, from January 17-20, the police executed a series of raids across the city. Boscarino’s operation was just one of the many to be shutdown. The Schleyer Hotel however, remained untouched, open for business, and continually profitable.

How could this be? Why, police protection of course. Or rather, the police being willing to turn a blind eye to what was going on. As the news reports of gangsters, rumrunners, and grisly murders gripped the country, the truth became evident. The great experiment had failed. Rochester’s criminal underworld had not reached the level of violence that was being sensationalized by the newspapers and reporting media. There was blood in the water though, and the sharks began to circle. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, one of the nations most beloved presidents, built his election platform partly on the annulment of prohibition. Now that’s political savvy. Who couldn’t get behind a candidate like that? In a time a when alcohol is illegal, the president that will do a shot with me gets my vote! Even our very own Hiram Watson Sibley, son of Hiram Sibley, was reported to have given to the Association Against Prohibition.

That’s what the country had come to. The pious and self-righteous minority tried to control the people, and offer a broad solution to what is more of a personal problem. We all understand the dangers of alcohol and drug dependencies, but to decide that the entire United States had a problem and address it as such was foolhardy and overall very close minded.

To that point, the Genesee brewery was granted permission to brew a special end of prohibition beer. This permit was granted April 27, 1933. A full 8 months before the end of prohibition. Needless to say the writing was on the wall. On December 5, 1933, 14 years after the 18th amendment placed a ban of alcohol, it’s consumption, and production, the 21st amendment was ratified and put into affect. It lifted the ban nationwide, and the country was once again free to booze it up. There were victory parties and fanfare on the day the 18th amendment was repealed. The speakeasies closed, and the normal bars and saloons reopened for business. The Schleyer hotel continued on as a Soft Drink restaurant for a number of years, before closing it’s doors in 1936.

The 18th amendment forever changed our country, our cities, and for some, it changed the path of their very lives. This time period in American history gave birth to organized crime on a grand scale, giving strength to underworld organizations that still exist today. As a city, Rochester, New York spat beer in the face of prohibition. Be proud of your past, Rochesterians. This is a take-no-shit kind of city, and it’s nice to know that even during Prohibition, our beloved city stayed true to form.

Marshall Street Bar and Grill