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Back in time

Olympia’s Repeal Day celebration is about celebrating the alcohol, not hiding it

Bradford Knutson: He celebrates cocktails. Photo credit: Nicole Butgon/Facebook

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This Monday, Dec. 5, is "fast becoming a national holiday," at least according to the people at the Olympia Film Society.

But if you're wondering which holiday it is, you're not alone.

It's the date Prohibition was repealed back in 1933, and Olympia bartenders and the folks at the film society will be celebrating in grand style with an evening of burlesque, music, films and craft cocktails.

And the craft is key, says Bradford Knutson, who tends bar at Olympia's Swing Wine Bar and who came up with the idea of a local celebration. If it sounds like it's mostly about celebrating drinking, Repeal Day is actually intended to celebrate a certain kind of drinking experience.

"The time before Prohibition is considered the golden age of cocktails," Knutson says. "Bartenders were at their peak."

Prohibition didn't just lead to the development of underground criminal empires, he points out: It also destroyed the culture of the fine cocktail.

"The only thing people could get was really bad alcohol. What came out of Prohibition was a generation of cocktails, all the way through the '80s, that were about hiding the flavor of alcohol.

"This is about going back to the old way of making cocktails, to enhance the flavor of alcohol instead of trying to hide it," Knutson says. "It's more about an appreciation of craft than a celebration of getting drunk."

"There's a whole movement of slow food, and this is part of that," says Capitol Theater manager Audrey Henley. "This is about really enjoying what you have in the glass.

There will be lots to enjoy Monday night, with pre-Prohibition-style cocktails created by bartenders from Swing, Mercato Ristorante and Waterstreet Cafe.

For the night, the theater will have two bars: one in the mezzanine used to serve beer and wine during special events and one set up at the main concession stand. Each will serve a different punch along with a menu of cocktails.

Besides the drinks (one is included in the ticket price), the evening - hosted by storyteller and actress Elizabeth Lord - will include music of the era by the Greta Jane Quartet, burlesque by Olympia's Tush and a screening of the 1912 D.W. Griffiths gangster short The Musketeers of Pig Alley.

Knutson is also planning an oak-aged version of the Hanky Panky, a  cocktail developed in 1927 London by famed bartender Ada Coleman.

"There is a new trend of using small oak barrels to age cocktails,"  he says. The idea is to smooth out the concoction and add caramel and vanilla notes.

"I'm crossing my fingers," says Knutson. "You always take a chance  when you throw alcohol into a barrel."

Dress suitable for the 1920s or '30s is encouraged. Fittingly, the Capital Theater itself was built in 1924.

"The idea is to travel back in time," Henley said, "and I think we're in the right place for it."

Repeal Day Celebration

Monday, Dec. 5, doors open at 6 p.m., show begins at 7 p.m.
$12, $8 for Olympia Film Society members at, Rainy Day Records or the box office the night of the show
Capitol Theater, 206 Fifth Ave. S.E., Olympia

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