Repeal Day at The Dawson in River West celebrated the repeal of the 18th Amendment: the end of prohibition.

Hosted by Chicago Reader, this Gatsby-esque soiree also celebrated Old Forester, the only bourbon brand continuously distilled before, during and after prohibition.


Old Forester, based in Louisville, Ky., is also America’s first bottled bourbon. It was able to operate throughout the Prohibition era (1920-1933) by obtaining a special license that granted it permission to continue supplying for medicinal purposes.

CUSP Magazine spoke to Old Forester’s brand manager, Therese McGuire, who informed us that there were 40 similar events taking place across the country on Dec. 5 and Dec. 6. McGuire said The Dawson is a big supporter of Old Forester, and Old Forrester loves Chicago.


“Chicago is a historically important location on repeal day with its history of the mobs in the 1920s and black market brewing and distilling,” McGuire said.


Chicago Reader, the alternative newspaper covering all aspects of the Chicago scene, is aimed at a young audience. The newspaper’s marketing and events manager, Bryan Burda, described the evening’s event as a great partnership and a good event celebrating the company.


“The paper reports on what Chicagoans are doing through real Chicagoans, and it always seeks to find ways to work with brands that resonate for Chicago and make them work for us,” Burda said. “As Chicago Reader aims to primarily reach the younger crowd, this event is a good fit.”


It was a very well-designed event. A table of Old Forester merchandise, including sweaters, tee-shirts and attractive hip flasks, stood by the entrance. The table was manned by two friendly young women dressed in jazzy flapper attire, complete with feathers and pearls. At the far side of the bar was a ‘20s themed vintage photoshoot with costumes and props for guests to enjoy.

Mel Hill, the lead singer of indie/jazz band The Winchester Sound, was luxuriously dressed in a black and gold sequined, floor-length evening gown. Sean Hill on sax, Zach Biggus on guitar, Sean Jacobi on bass and Chris Urban on drums were all dressed in incredibly slick and sophisticated attire, nailing the dapper, roaring ‘20s look. Mixing the old with the new, the band performed a range of both period and contemporary covers as well as its own originals.


Rolling out ‘20s, ‘50s and ‘60s jazz, swing and blues classics with a sprinkling of hits from contemporary artists like Portishead, OutKast and Amy Winehouse, the evening quickly progressed from a finger-clicking, toe-tapping affair to a full-blown dance session. Even The Dawson staff couldn’t resist The Winchester Sound’s melodic pull, as a member of the kitchen staff appeared early in the evening to have a dance with one of the waitresses. They were, in fact, the first couple to brave the dance floor.

Toward the end of the second set, The Winchester Sound’s raucous original, “Waitin’ on my Man,” brought the house down. The sultry sax intro and slow-paced, tantalizing verses, gave way to a bellowed chorus. Hill introduced it as a song about an addiction to buying things online.

“When I say waiting on my man, I mean the mailman, because he’s always got my stuff,” Hill said.

Legend has it that the first old fashioned cocktails were made by Old Forester in the 1880s and were 100 proof recipes. Suitably, the central bar was serving a set list of old fashioned Old Forester cocktails.


The foamy Shave & a Hot Bath, made of Old Forester Signature bourbon, amaro abano, cinnamon, cloves and cream, is strong, dark and thick. It is simple, classic and understated. It’s a gentleman’s drink, made to slowly sip and savor. Old Forester’s Champagne Punch, made with lemon, raspberry and sparkling wine, was served in a decorative crystal champagne flute. The sweet, fruity and bubbly drink with a tart finish is delightfully light and uplifting, following the heavier Shave & a Hot Bath. The Old Forester Gold Rush, made with honey and lemon, was beautifully sweet, smooth and warm.


There was also an old fashioned cocktail-making station in the back room. Guests had a choice of either the Old Forester Signature or the House Barrel as the base and then their choice of sugar and bitters, including the likes of Dead Rabbit Orinoco Bitters and Cherry Bark Vanilla Bitters. This room, with draped black velvet curtains hanging on either side of the entrance, had an exclusive feel. A series of vintage Old Forester poster adverts from throughout the decades hung beside the minibar, and intricate antiques lay on the mantel piece above the fire.


Of course, Repeal Day is about a lot more than just alcohol. The moralist experiment that was prohibition created a black market, causing a rise in organized crime and billions of dollars to be lost in federal liquor-tax revenue. It also began a culture war, which created urban and rural; traditional and modern; and generational divides in American society. Repeal Day is celebrated for putting an end to the black market of these dark times and for seeing a return to the enjoyment of alcohol as a legitimate social custom for people in public life. To many, it symbolizes the modern American value of freedom of individual choice.


The atmosphere at The Dawson was nostalgic yet energized. With the vibrant, enchanting music and great quality drinks, we had a truly lovely evening celebrating our civil liberties in this classy yet cozy venue.


To stay up to date with those involved in hosting and creating this event, follow them on social media using the links provided below:


Old Forester: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

The Dawson: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

The Winchester Sound: Facebook and Twitter


Sydney Poland