What’s the first thing that pops into your mind at the mention of Chicago? Maybe it’s the city’s fabled political corruption, professional sports teams, or architecture. Or maybe the city’s signature hot dogs, pizza, or cold and windy weather.
Liz Garibay’s answer? None of the above.
Alcohol, particularly beer, is inextricably aligned with Chicago’s foundation and develop- ment, in her mind. The former public historian at the Chicago History Museum will speak about Chicago as the “City of Booze Shoulders” January 27 at the Wilmette Historical Society.
The presentation begins at 2 p.m.
“When people talk about Chicago, past to present, beer and the beer industry should be front and center because [they] really helped build the city,” Garibay says.
Garibay is the founder of the Chicago Brewseum. Its inaugural exhibition, “Brewing Up Chicago,” was installed at the Field Museum.
The Brewseum’s mission is to take “a deeper look into one of the oldest beverages and its power to build community and its importance as an ongoing cultural force.”
“My work,” Garibay says, “explores history through the lens of alcohol because I truly believe that alcohol is a lubricant for history.”
She found this intoxicating niche as a bar-patronizing grad student who became enthralled with stories told to her by older bar regulars.
“They had 20-30 years worth of stories [about the bar],” she says. “They were invaluable oral histories, and I started writing things down. Realizing they had been drinking, I didn’t know how much of what they told me was fact or fiction. I did my own research and discovered new stories that told the history of that particular bar.”
When Garibay started working at the Chicago History Museum, she compiled roughly 100 such histories and thought they could be used as an educational tool. Integrating alcohol with learning was first met with skepticism, but her innovative History Pub Crawls became popular programs.
Think of beer and Chicago, and the mind goes first to the Prohibition era, Al Capone and perhaps Eliot Ness. But Chicago’s beer roots were brewing centuries earlier.
Garibay says Prohibition will get barely a mention in her presentation.
“I begin in the late 1700s, when the swamp town that would eventually be settled as Chicago was barely inhabited,”says Garibay,who credits German immigrants with introducing beer to the area. “Beer wasn’t widely available; it was pricey, and there was no refrigeration, so it did not have a long shelf life
“It’s not something you’d want to spend your money on when you’re just trying to get going,” she adds.
The rest of the story, Garibay continues, “is incredibly powerful, diverse, and complicated– but it’s also exciting. At the end of [my presentation], people will have a new appreciation of Chicago history and also our beer history.”
Seating for “City of Booze Shoulders” is limited; call 847-853-7666 or email [email protected].