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First Beer License in North Dakota


For North Dakota, Prohibition had come with statehood in 1889. Although ban on alcohol was extremely unpopular with the majority of citizens in the state, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and ministerial associations managed to thwart any efforts to amend the Constitution and repeal the laws. Bootleggers and “blind piggers” became folk heroes, and bathtub gin became commonplace. Prosecuting violators was difficult, and people like Frank “Shoot to Kill” Watkins worked for the Enforcement League in an attempt to stop the flow of illegal booze.

With the initiation of the Volstead Act, prohibition became a national issue in 1920, so North Dakota was not alone in its fight against alcohol. But nationally, the law proved to be very unpopular and hard to enforce. It was so difficult to obtain a conviction that the States Attorney for Ward County decided to prosecute only the more serious infringements.

By the early 1930s it was evident that Prohibition was a failure, and Congress passed a series of laws modifying the Volstead Act, eventually eliminating it by the end of 1933. Following the national trend, the citizens of North Dakota passed an initiated measure by a large margin on November 8, 1932. This repealed Section 217, Article 20 of the state’s Constitution, effectively ending prohibition.

The 1933 Legislature passed Senate Bill 263 allowing the sale of beer by municipalities. However, that wasn’t enough. Another initiated measure, which passed by almost sixty thousand votes on September 22, 1933, provided for the licensing of on-sale beer establishments. On this date in 1933, Frank Zappas of Jamestown obtained the first beer license ever issued in the State of North Dakota. A special ceremony was conducted in the office of Governor William Langer with newly appointed State Beer Commissioner Owen T. Owen officiating.

Frank Zappas, a Greek immigrant, was the proprietor of the Palace of Sweets, a confectionary store he established in 1917. He was one of the leaders in the movement to abolish prohibition in North Dakota, and seeing the possibility of success, he remodeled his store into the Palace Café. The cafe boasted horseshoe shaped booths and a private balcony for the celebration of special events.

It may be looked upon with a bit of irony that the second beer license was issued to the Gladstone Hotel, which was also located in Jamestown. Forty-four years earlier, almost to the day, Jamestown was serving as the center of the Prohibition movement when the official news came that North Dakota was a dry state.

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis


The Bismarck Tribune October 26, 1933

Stutsman County Record October 26, 1933

Century of Stories- Jamestown and Stutsman County Edited by James Smorada and Lois Forrest, Fort Seward Historical Society 1983

Stutsman County Record August 5, 1954

Laws Passed by the Twenty-third Session of the Legislative Assembly of the State of North Dakota- 1933, Holt Printing Company, Grand Forks, ND

Laws Passed by the Twenty-third Session of the Legislative Assembly of the State of North Dakota- 1935, Holt Printing Company, Grand Forks, ND