The Keg Party
Pushing back against the next Prohibition
By Chris Busby
Portland, Maine, the birthplace of Prohibition, is once again a front line in the perennial culture war between the hedonists and the moralists, the party people and the party-poopers.
As anyone who drinks or smokes anything knows, the buzz-crushers have been on a roll for the past 10 years, ever since the restaurant smoking ban passed. By now it’s become a rout. The Poopers are running up the score the same way they’ve raised the price of a pack of smokes: little by little, year after year, one dumb law setting precedent for the next.
The nanny majority on the Portland City Council is leading the charge. Having pioneered the effort to ban smoking inside bars, inspiring the statewide ban of ’04, this past summer the Council outlawed smoking outside bars and restaurants, on decks and street-side patios, before 10 p.m.. A month earlier, councilors made it a crime to light up on East End Beach — evah.
This crackdown followed a series of city ordinances and police actions over the past three years targeting bar and restaurant owners. It started with big fee hikes for licenses to sell booze, allow dancing, or offer outdoor seating. The Council put the kibosh on after-hours dancing and closed Popeye’s Icehouse Tavern after the owners finally cleaned up their act. Then came the wave of sting operations in which undercover cops try to hoodwink bartenders into serving an attractive 19-year-old police academy cadet a cocktail.
Do you dream of owning and operating a friendly neighborhood tavern in Portland? You’d get a warmer welcome if you tried to open a brothel. And since the condo craze came and went on Congress Street, most councilors now consider downtown a neighborhood, too, deserving of the same peace and quiet enforced in other residential areas. Plus, a new “bar dispersal” law has made dozens of prime downtown locations off-limits to would-be nightlife entrepreneurs. Intended to keep rowdy crowds from clashing in the Old Port after last call, the law’s done nothing to reduce fights (as we can see nearly every night from our office deck above Wharf Street), but has stopped at least two proprietors of classy restaurants downtown from offering sedate, live dining music to their customers.
State lawmakers have been on a moral bender, too. Their latest dim idea is the “drug-free safe zone.” Like the ineffectual drug-free zones around schools, these zones are 1,000-foot areas around playgrounds, parks and other places youth occasionally gather after playing hyper-violent video games about drug dealers. Hundreds have been created in Maine cities and towns like Westbrook and South Portland. The zones do nothing to help deter drug crimes, but do help keep our prisons packed past capacity with addicts who stumble across their invisible tripwires.
Why does this keeping happening? It’s simple, really. The goody-goodies keep getting their way because the bohemians are not organized.
After years of being treated like lepers, most smokers are ashamed to even admit their filthy habit, much less speak up for their rights. Drinkers have been saddled with a similar shame, and the pot-heads, being pot-heads, keep flaking out and forgetting when the meetings are.
But fear not, bleary-eyed brethren! A movement has begun to shove the Poopers back into their place.
It started in Augusta earlier this year. Lawmakers were on their way to upping the cigarette tax again when some state senators with Marlboro breath finally said, “Enough’s enough!” Suddenly short of votes, the Augusta nannies set their sights on raising taxes for beer, wine and cocktail mixers, prompting the citizen referendum to repeal the new levy that, as of this writing, appears certain to pass by a landslide.
As this victory shows, when drinkers, smokers and tokers unite, together we can make a difference.
The Bollard’s voters’ guides this year showed there are allies to our cause scattered across the political spectrum, like Democratic House candidate Diane Russell (pro-legalization of pot), Republican House contender David Fernald (against making the bar and restaurant outdoor butt ban state law: “I don’t know where stuff like this stops.”), and Green Independent House seat-seeker Michael Hiltz (said the state should consider making the drinking age 18 again). Granted, those three pols also hold other positions on partying we abhor, but it’s a start.
In this spirit, The Bollard introduces a new political group: the Portland Keg Party. Formed in a downtown cocktail lounge the night of Sept. 10, 2008, minutes after the Portland City Council voted to ban smoking on patios and decks, the party has a simple, four-plank platform…
1. Repeal all bar and restaurant smoking bans.
OK, the nannies have made their point: smoking doesn’t have to be the norm in our taverns and houses of chow. Now it’s time to restore the proprietors’ right to cater to law-abiding customers.
Most bar and restaurant owners will undoubtedly opt to keep their places smoke-free. That’s fine. Each to his own. The handful of establishments that would make more money by allowing smoking again could do so.
The Keg Party does not recognize the non-smokers’ claim that they have a right to go to, say, Sangillo’s, and not catch the whiff of a Camel. While it’s regrettable they’d no longer be able to experience the joys of drinking an afternoon away at that cozy East End watering hole, frankly, we haven’t seen them there lately.
2. Reform our alcohol laws.
At the top of the list: make the legal age to drink in Maine 18 again. Our underage brothers and sisters have been discriminated against too long. They deserve a seat at the bar. The current age limit is clearly retarding their development into responsible drinkers.
Second: no last call. It’s no surprise most violence in the Old Port happens around 1 a.m. Today’s swingin’ singles have rediscovered the “disco nap” — the short snooze between Happy Hour and Party Time. They don’t arrive at the first bar until 11, then they pound beers and test-tube shots for an hour and 45, get hammered and hungry for greasy food, and pound one another in the parking lot next to Bill’s Pizza.
The Portland City Council is working in the wrong dimension. They don’t need to space bars out by distance to reduce fights at last call; they need to space last call out by time. We suggest the new time be no time at all. So long as a saloon is operating in a lawful and reasonably peaceable fashion, who cares what time it is?
3. Stop taxing our smokes, start taxing our pot.
Do you have any idea how much grass is grown, bought and sold in the Pine Tree State every year? If not, you’re not alone. The head of the Maine DEA, to name just one top cop, doesn’t have a clue either. Let’s find out.
Legalize marijuana and make it a crime to sell it without charging sales tax. The slight increase on the beer, wine and mixer tax was estimated to generate over $40 million. Just think what five bucks per eighth or a buck per nickel bag would net us! And need we mention the gigantic increase in tourism, particularly from Vermont?
The Keg Party does not endorse the sale of physically addictive drugs other than nicotine and caffeine, but neither do we support the War on Drugs. The fact hard drugs are illegal is not a significant deterrent. Other than the very real chance your heart will stop beating, the prime deterrent to doing hard drugs will continue to be the scumbags you have to deal with to get ’em.
4. Don’t be an asshole.
It’s the bad partiers who give the good ones a bad name: the ones who fight and pee in the streets, blow smoke in babies’ faces, and drive drunk.
The Keg Party considers driving while intoxicated the second-most-serious party foul one can commit, second only to driving the course of the Free World while dry drunk. We wholeheartedly endorse efforts to crack down harder on DWI. In fact, we want to meet the Puritans more than halfway on this issue, going beyond their current position and reintroducing one of their favorite forms of punishment from back in the day: the stockade.
In addition to serious jail time and loss of license, convicted drunk drivers shall spend every Wednesday of their sentence clamped into stockades set up in Monument Square. That’s also the day the Portland Farmers’ Market is there, so local farmers can make extra money selling rotten produce to citizens who want to chuck some at the offenders for sport.
Some other forms of old-school punishment we’d support for lesser fouls: non-fatal stoning or “pebbling,” braising at the stake, and gluing and feathering.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE KEG PARTY
Who is the leader of this group?
Our Vice President is J.T. Nichols, the renowned Portland playwright, leader of the Stone Pinhead Ensemble and frontman of the comedy-rock group The Chairs. We direct you to read an influential op-ed he penned for The Bollard in July 2007 decrying the evils of secondhand fat. Vice President Nichols was elected at the Keg Party’s first convention by a unanimous vote of all ten members assembled in the front lounge at The White Heart the other night.
So who’s the President?
That joke flew right past you, didn’t it?
What will the party do?
Party, mostly. But we’ll also endorse and denounce candidates for public office and support our picks with campaign materials and robocalls by celebrity party members (“Hello, this is David Lee Roth urging you to vote for…”).
Where and when does the party meet?
Wherever and whenever fine and not-so-fine wine, beer and spirits are consumed by freedom-loving people, and sometimes behind the bar next to the dumpster passing a J.
Is a group — or, for that matter, a cover story — like this really necessary? Aren’t there more important causes to fight for?
Where do revolutions tend to ferment, including the one that birthed this great nation? Taverns, that’s where. That’s why regimes are always trying to crush them.
It’s they who are paranoid, not us. Like them, we’re too lazy to even run for the school board, much less overthrow it. But if we don’t push back against the next Prohibition, it’ll be like we’re 19 again, slamming cans in the woods and sneaking across the border for skunked Molsons. No one should have to suffer those hangovers again.
Remember when Happy Hours were crowded with singles, when married couples had cocktail parties? Remember when beer drinkers weren’t penned in like cattle at festivals and outdoor concerts, when supermarket cashiers wouldn’t smell Joe’s breath before deciding whether to ring up his Six-pack?
The Beastie Boys’ first hit has gone from pop to prophesy. Two decades later, we literally have to fight for our right to party. Make no mistake, squares, the tables are turning. The Mothership is glimmering on the horizon…