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Bootleggers Ball Pays Homage to Prohibition Era in Covington

A benefit for Covington Arts will celebrate the city and the end of Prohibition.

The first ever Bootleggers Ball will be held December 7 at the BLDG on Pike Street.

"There is a mix of history in the region that is very particular to the region. There are other places where you probably get a merging of both the pro-prohibition and anti-prohibition and the making of bourbon or booze, but not that many in the country," said Marisa McNee, one of the event's organizers.

The goal is to make the Bootleggers Ball an annual fundraiser for the newly re-branded Covington Arts. "It felt like a good fit with Covington Arts because they have successful events and it's a good crowd for that," McNee said.

Cincinnati cocktail expert Molly Wellman, of Japp's in Cincinnati and the Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar in Mainstrasse Village, is on board to host an extra hour of celebration for those who purchase VIP tickets. The special booze to be imbibed at the site is a secret. During the party, bartenders from Covington establishments will be mixing drinks.

Modeled after Washington, DC's Repeal Day Ball, the Bootleggers Ball celebrates the eightieth anniversary of the repeal of the Volstead Act or prohibition in America. One of the most famous personalities from the Prohibition era died in Covington and is featured on the event's poster.

George Remus was a turn-of-the-century lawyer who memorized the Volstead Act and discovered loopholes that would allow him to purchase distilleries and pharmacies for the purpose of selling bonded liquor to himself for medical purposes. He moved to Cincinnati from Illinois and bought up distilleries. Within three years he was a millionaire forty times over.

Remus became known as King of the Bootleggers.

His story took a bizarre turn when he and his second wife were close to finalizing their divorce. That's when he had his driver chase down Imogene Remus's car off the road in Eden Park. Remus fatally shot her on the spot.

Remus's popularity, it is claimed, allowed him to escape conviction when a jury, that deliberated only nineteen minutes, bought his defense that he was temporarily insane. He served only six months in prison, only a quarter of the time he had previously spent in a federal prison after being convicted on thousands of violations of the Volstead Act.

Following that run-in, Remus moved to Covington and lived quietly until his death in 1952. He is buried in Falmouth.

That seedy history in the area is the inspiration for the Bootleggers Ball.

"Not only was the King of the Bootleggers living in Cincinnati, but he spent the last twenty years of his life in Covington," McNee said. "The temperance movement started thirty miles north of here and bourbon is one of the most notable exports from the great Commonwealth of Kentucky."

"With Covington's bicentennial coming up (in 2015) and the eightieth anniversary of the end of prohibition, it just seemed like a good year to do it."

"It's more like something that would become an annual event that would become a fundraiser to help develop a budget for Covington Arts," said Cate Yellig, Covington Arts manager. "We want it to be distinct from other art fundraisers. We're looking at our targeted segments for the Covington Arts strategy and we're trying to attract new groups of people to the city and the arts."

"Covington Arts is part of the overall economic development strategy for the city, so really, in terms of these two ideas, Covington Arts and the vision for some sort of celebration of the end of prohibition, that was something the whole community could take part in," said McNee, who dubbed the event, 'nerd prom for Covington'. "It's not just arts and it's not just cocktails."

"Everyone who lived here or was born here has some connection or understanding of the history. That's why we branded it a celebration of Covington."

What: The Bootleggers Ball

When: Saturday, December 7 9p-12a (with a special VIP hour at 8p)
Where: The BLDG, 30 W Pike St, Covington
Tickets: $60 general, $80 VIP
More information and to purchase tickets: Bootleggers Ball
Photo: George Remus as portrayed on the Bootleggers Ball poster