Back in the Day: Moonshine raid details Winnetka’s brief booze history

This article originally appeared in the February 27, 2019 issue of the Winnetka Current as Back in the Day: Moonshine raid details Winnetka’s brief booze history

By Holly Marihugh

As the clock struck 6 p.m. Dec. 8, 1926, seven Winnetka police officers raided Curruti’s restaurant on Linden Street for the crime of serving illicit moonshine. The proprietor, Marie Curruti, had poured the bootleg alcohol to undercover Officer Dudley Everett at noon and at 3 p.m. of the same day (yet he apparently was still sober enough for the 6 p.m. raid).

A Village Hall report from the era tells the story that Officer Everett saved one of the drinks as evidence, and Police Chief William Peterson, with the liquid proof in hand, received a search warrant from Judges Clark Northrop and Byron Nelson.

Inside the restaurant, officers pinpointed a bottle of the booty.

“In an ice cooler behind the counter was found a quart bottle of moonshine about half full,” the report stated with authority.

While the raid and arrest sound similar to a “Police Academy” movie caper, prohibition in the village was real. Winnetka founders included a special provision in the 1869 Village Charter prohibiting the sale of “spirituous, vinous or fermented liquors.” That one simple provision, along with the influence of an active temperance movement in neighboring Evanston, kept Winnetka dry for the next 113 years.

Despite the Village provision, many Winnetkans found a way to imbibe over the years. Similar to the medical marijuana movement today, residents could seek a doctor to “prescribe” medicinal alcohol, such as brandy or whisky, for pick up at a local pharmacy. Winnetka’s early newspaper, The Messenger, pointed out irritably in 1914 that physicians rarely used either drink as actual medicine.

The following year, in a Messenger column titled “Why Blind Pigs?” the author was indignant: “We know they are there. We see old men and young men going home intoxicated from the effects of liquor purchased at these places, and we know of homes ruined and degraded because of this miserable traffic, and yet we as a community seem utterly indifferent.” (A “blind pig” was another name for a speakeasy.)

Even after the National Prohibition Act was repealed in 1933, Winnetka remained adamant against alcohol.

As a consequence, Winnetkans and its “dry” neighbors mostly just headed to taverns in the wet suburbs to the west.

Some of these taverns became favorites of Northwestern University students, and Rosalie Clary, a longtime Winnetka resident, recounted what she knew of the more memorable places.

According to Rosalie, the lucky student who had access to a car had instant friends to accompany him on Friday and Saturday nights, when the curfew was 2 a.m. The closest place to campus was the Little Club on Golf Road just past the Skokie city limits. Its most notable feature was the beer labels on the ceiling. The boys would put the wet labels on their wallets and throw them up to the ceiling, where the labels would hopefully stick.

Over the decades, Winnetkans have safely imbibed with backing from a 1932 Village ordinance that declared drinking at home legal if “such liquors were lawfully acquired, and are for the personal consumption of the owner … his family and his bona fide guests.”

But by 1982, Village President Gwen Trindl saw the writing on the wall. Winnetkans were driving out of town to drink and dine because they couldn’t do both in the village.

Along with other reasons for repeal, Trindl said the Village couldn’t attract and retain grocery stores and restaurants until prohibition was lifted. In a referendum, voters agreed with Trindl by a three to one margin. Winnetka then opened its doors to alcoholic beverages that Mrs. Curruti would have been proud to serve.

Back in the Day is a monthly column by The Winnetka Historical Society.

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