When most visitors think of alcohol on Catalina Island, they envision a tropical drink with a paper umbrella, a bucket of beer on the sand at Descanso Beach or a bottle of fine wine at a great restaurant. While that may be the current reality of Catalina alcohol, the history – particularly during Prohibition – is much more entertaining.
When the 18th amendment banning alcohol nationwide was implemented in 1920, along with the Volstead Act, which authorized its enforcement, Southern California was a much different place. The population was many magnitudes less, but like the rest of the country the Roaring ‘20s were – for most people – a time to circumvent Prohibition. Long a haven for smugglers, Catalina Island quickly became a stopping point and rendezvous point to avoid US Revenue Agents. Illegal booze was brought down from Canada and up from Mexico and smugglers made Catalina a favorite point to stash their stash before arranging for it to be brought to speakeasies on the Southern California mainland.
Residents on Catalina Island also made their own booze, particularly the Slavic immigrants who made wine on the hill between Whitley and Marilla avenues. Vinegar Hill, as it became known, was home to at least one now picturesque raid by revenuers.
These days, finding cocktails on Catalina Island is a simple matter of choosing your favorite watering hole.