The Party Wilson Couldn’t Have, Speakeasy Costume Ball at the Woodrow Wilson House

Woodrow Wilson is tired of people thinking Prohibition was his idea. And to prove it, he’s decided to throw a killer party. Well, maybe Wilson himself won’t be in attendance, but the people behind the Woodrow Wilson House have concocted an unconventional fundraiser – a speakeasy costume ball at the house of President Woodrow Wilson. Only in Washington, DC can we throw a party at the house of the Prez who was in power when Prohibition went into effect.

This ball celebrates Woodrow Wilson’s vetoing of the Volstead Act. The Volstead Act sought to further define the term “intoxicating liquors” and to prohibit the manufacture, sale and transportation of all alcohol. On October 28, 1919, Wilson vetoed the bill. Unfortunately for 1920s era Americans, Congress would override his veto on the same day.
“We wanted to offer young adults something different from the usual Washington networking event,” explained Sarah Andrews of the Woodrow Wilson House. “The Roaring Twenties is synonymous with ‘fun’ and ‘cocktails’ and we will be providing both!”

As was common at speakeasies back in the day, guests may enter through an unmarked basement door at the back of the house, signified by a colored light. Attendees will get an after-hours experience in the mansion, complete with passed hors d’oeuvres, cocktail stations and a ragtime band. The costume contest will reward the rumrunner, flapper or gangster in attendance who is best dressed.

Those who upgrade their ticket to the “Bootleggers experience” will also gain access to a private cocktail class with Phil Greene, Treasurer and Founder of the Museum of the American Cocktail. Few people realize that the cocktail was an American invention. Bootleggers will hear Phil talk about the history behind an assortment of rum based cocktails as they prepare the drinks right in Woodrow Wilson’s kitchen.

The Woodrow Wilson House is Washington’s only presidential museum. While most presidents happily retire back to their home state, Wilson decided to stick around DC. His second wife, Edith, had lived in Washington before they met and received a small fortune when her former husband, a prosperous DC jeweler, passed away. Woodrow and Edith moved into this Embassy Row home in 1921, but it wasn’t an easy move.
Prohibition forbid the transportation of alcohol, and that presented a problem for Woodrow, who did not want to leave his fine wine collection in the White House for his successor. The recently elected Harding was known to be a heavy drinker. “He appealed to Congress,” explains Garrett Peck, author of The Prohibition Hangover and co-organizer of the Speakeasy Ball, “and Congress passed a special law just for him that allowed one person on one specific day to transport alcohol from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to 2340 S Street.”

Speakeasy Ball guests will also get a rare look at Wilson’s prized wine cellar. “Considering the sale of alcohol was illegal after 1920, it’s a little curious how the 1928 bottle of champagne and the 1922 bottle of Cointreau made their way into the wine cellar,” continues Peck. “We do know that Mrs. Wilson was a very well connected lady.”

Today, the Woodrow Wilson House lives on as a museum and is commonly used as a venue for private events. Though it may not yet be Thanksgiving, our generation certainly has a lot to be grateful for. A party like this would not have been easy to pull off in Wilson’s day.
The Speakeasy Ball, October 28th 7-9p.m. at the Woodrow Wilson House. Tickets are $35, Bootleggers experience with pre-cocktail class is $125. All proceeds will benefit the Woodrow Wilson House outreach and educational programs. Tickets can be purchased online at

The Woodrow Wilson House: 2340 S St., NW DC; 202-387-4062;

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