I've asserted several times in this series that bars were, traditionally, male spaces. It wasn't until checking Christine Sismondo's phenomenal history America Walks Into a Bar out from my local library that I found out this was not just an informal taboo: in the decades after Prohibition, many bars explicitly banned women, or banned them from visiting during certain hours.
There were a few reasons for this, depending on the region and the bar: first, during World War II, as was the case in many other fields, women went into traditionally male occupations, including bartending (in some cases forming barmaids' unions). When men came back from the war, they formed their own, all-male unions to muscle female bartenders out. But bars did employ women during the postwar era – just not to pour drinks. Instead, "B-girls" employed by the bar would show up, pretending to be nurses or secretaries on their way home from work, and charm the male clientele into buying them drink after drink. After several drinks, the woman in question – usually called a "B-girl" – would disappear, leaving her companion with an artificially inflated bar tab: he'd be charged for cocktails even as the in-the-know bartenders had been pouring one glass of juice, soda pop or iced tea after another.
The ensuing moral panic (which focused on protecting the male victims, and didn't concern itself one way or another with the women involved in the work) had the result that many bars banned women from visiting, or just from visiting during certain hours. And, of course, there were the bars that had never opened their doors to women in the first place, or just refused to serve unaccompanied women.
As for the consumption of spirits per se, it's true that cocktails became more popular in the 1920s than they had in previous years, and both men and women drank cocktails enthusiastically. In fact, historian Catherine Gilbert Murdock, in her phenomenal book Domesticating Drink, argues that Prohibition had a dual effect on the way women and men socialized. Where previously men had gone to saloons to drink beer (or whiskey) alone, during Prohibition, women – either with partners or friends – went to speakeasies without fear of social retribution.
Etiquette books for women, and women's magazines, urged "respectable" women to serve drinks and to drink themselves; one advice writer suggested courting couples each have the chance to see each other "unpleasantly drunk" before tying the knot. Department stores and catalogs pushed cocktail shakers and glassware during the 1920s, since cocktail, uh, paraphernalia was not illegal (nor, for that matter, were home winemaking kits); books of cocktail recipes were marketed to the home bartender, not the pro. Punches (eggnogs, grogs and milk punch – which I had the opportunity to try this weekend and which is far tastier than it sounds) were around in the 19th century, and so were some drinks we'd call cocktails now (like the mint julep). Cocktails – and the cocktail party – didn't really become part of the American drinking scene until the 20th century, though. The rise of the cocktail both influenced, and was influenced by, shifting gender politics in the United States – but also by liquor control laws.
On Saturday night, my partner and I were walking out of a local grocer when he decided to buy one of the newspapers being sold by the homeless couple on the corner. I was holding our grocery bag as Andreas paid for the paper, and as the woman handed it to him, she asked him something, then reached over and patted my stomach before he steered me away. I chuckled as we turned towards home. "Why did she poke me? That was funny," I said, because I hadn't caught what they said and didn't understand what I did hear. He looked at me, stricken, and began to shake his head. Then it hit me. She wanted to know when I'm due.