Faces Along the Bar: Lore and Order in the Workingman's Saloon, 1870-1920

Faces Along the Bar: Lore and Order in the Workingman's Saloon, 1870-1920

by Madelon Powers
     
 

In this lively and engaging history, Madelon Powers recreates the daily life of the barroom, exploring what it was like to be a "regular" in the old-time saloon of pre-prohibition industrial America. Through an examination of saloongoers across America, her investigation offers a fascinating look at rich lore of the barroom—its many games, stories, songs,

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Overview

In this lively and engaging history, Madelon Powers recreates the daily life of the barroom, exploring what it was like to be a "regular" in the old-time saloon of pre-prohibition industrial America. Through an examination of saloongoers across America, her investigation offers a fascinating look at rich lore of the barroom—its many games, stories, songs, free lunch customs, and especially its elaborate system of drinking rituals that have been passed on for decades.

"A free-pouring blend of astonishing facts, folklore and firsthand period observations. . . . It's the rich details that'll inspire the casual reader to drink deep from this tap of knowledge."—Don Waller, USA Today recommended reading

"A surprise on every page."—Publishers Weekly

"Here we get social history that appreciates the bar talk even while dissecting its marvelous rituals."—Library Journal, starred review

"Careful scholarship with an anecdotal flair to please even the most sober of readers."—Nina C. Ayoub, Chronicle of Higher Education

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Powers has met with some incredulity when she mentions that she's a "saloon historian"colleagues snicker and the dean gets that faraway look in his eyes. Fortunately, Powers persisted in her study of a subject long overlooked by others on the grounds that it is frivolous or immoral, and the result is a detailed and thoroughly researched yet readable account of "how saloongoers promoted the process of community building in urban America from 1870 to 1920," the turbulent years in which the Industrial Revolution reached its peak and had its greatest effect on American society. Her chronicle of the "poor man's club" draws from observations by contemporary journalists (including photographers, sketch artists and cartoonists), by writers such as Jack London and by such progressive reformers as Lincoln Steffens and Jane Addams. What Powers learned was that the saloons provided a milieu in which the workingman could work out solutions to his own needs; her startling if useful analogy is that the barroom is like the school yard, with its own games, songs, jests, challenges and lore, all of which help the participant to accommodate the pressures imposed by the larger world of work or school. So here's looking at professor Powers, for a sober account, yet one with a surprise on every pagesuch as the discovery that "The Streets of Laredo" is a version of an old English song about a sailor who dies of syphilis, a cleaned-up rewrite for these Puritanical shores. (June)
Library Journal
This is not a book about the miseries of the drinking life but about the world that Americans built around the "workingman's saloon" from 1870 to 1920. Powers (history, Univ. of New Orleans) presents a counterpoint to the plentiful histories of the American Industrial Age and temperance movement with her portrait of a saloon culture that combined social escape with political organizing and sports gambling with storytelling while providing plenty of tipsy fellowship. Powers acknowledges the sober pointy-headedness that has kept many past academic historians writing about the Anti-Saloon League instead of the saloon itself. Here we get social history that appreciates the bar talk even while dissecting its marvelous rituals, from patrons' drinking games, tear-jerking songs, and favorite recitations ("The face upon the floor") to the history and varieties of round-buying: the honorable treat, the unrequited treat, the celebratory treat, the keeper's treat, the politician's treat. Pubs drained paychecks, for sure, but Powers also shows them serving the need for a working-class rival to the era's swank private clubs. Highly recommended for larger American history collections.Nathan Ward, "Library Journal"
Booknews
Focusing on the decades during which rapid industrialization was wrenching and reshaping US society, Powers (history, U. of New Orleans) explores the culture of working-class drinking establishments and the people who frequented them, and how they both reflected and impacted the larger society in which they were embedded and from which they grew. She draws on her background in anthropology to place the informal evidence in context. Some fine old photographs--her inspiration for the study--are included. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Kirkus Reviews
A fascinating, not to say spirited, study of the play of alcohol in Gilded Age history, focusing on the neighborhood bar. At the outset of her book, Powers (History/Univ. of New Orleans) defends her choice of subject, arguing that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries American saloons were the focal points for local politics, union organizing, and community-building. But, she continues, she is more interested in the way that those who frequented the saloon built a community around drink, a community with its own lore, music, jargon, and customs. The saloon, which began as a somewhat high-toned alternative to the usual tavern, drew in large crowds of workingmen (and some women, and even some children), who found inside the swinging doors a place to escape from daily hardshipsþand to cash paychecks and find a proverbial free lunch, that powerful and now long bygone enticement to spend oneþs lunch hour or evening wrapped around a mug and a shot glass. Powers studies the changing drinking habits of Americans through several waves of immigrants, with Anglo-Saxon hard cider giving way to German beer, Italian wine, and upper-crust French cocktails. She unearths wonderful, sometimes improbably sentimental drinking songs. She details the subjects of conversation in the saloonþreligion, of course, and politics, and sports. And she examines the people gathered around the bar; the Irish were, of course, notorious for their hard-drinking ways, she writes, but were never so badly demonized as were rural, southern African-Americans, whose escape into drink has not been much studied. At each turn she has much to say about the changing face of American culture in a momentous time,and she says it with uncommon clarity. Social history with a hard edge, highly recommended. (16 b&w photos, not seen)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780226677682
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
Publication date:
08/28/1998
Series:
Historical Studies of Urban America Series
Edition description:
1
Pages:
331
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)

What People are saying about this

Lawrence W. Levine
Powers' mastery of history and folklore enable us to experience and understand the workingman's saloon from within: to mingle with its denizens, hear their voices, and decipher their faces along the bar.
— Author of The Opening of the American Mind: Cannons, Culture and History

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