Bourbon, meet bubbles

Dayton Art Institute hosts a Prohibition-era party

By Terri Gordon

Photo: Like past Dayton Art Institute galas, Bourbon and Bubbles promises a classic experience Friday, April 21

For anyone with a little black dress or suit tucked away in the closet begging to be worn, the time has come! Get it out, dust it off, and get ready for a night of art and cocktails at the Dayton Art Institute’s (DAI) brand new event: Bourbon and Bubbles. Folks acquainted with Art Ball or Oktoberfest already know that when the museum (its affectionate moniker harks back to the institute’s original name: the Dayton Museum of Arts) throws a party, they throw a party—and now they want to take us all back to the era of the speakeasy, with its booze, music, and glamour.

“It’s a great way to kick off spring,” says Elaine Gounaris, events manager at the DAI. “It’s a great thing to do on an April evening. People love cocktails. They love cava; they love prosecco. They want to try something new and different, and this is a way to blend the audiences—those who love bourbon and those who love bubbles. I think anybody who comes to this event is guaranteed to have a good time.”

For the Bourbon and Bubbles inaugural event, the Art Institute teamed up with Heidelberg Distributing Company and the bourbon experts at Century Bar to create a bourbon and sparkling wine tasting event. Handcrafted bourbons will be offered in the dark and mysterious Shaw Gothic Cloister, while the airy Great Hall, with its marble walls and high ceilings, will be filled with “bubbles.”

“We wanted to incorporate bourbon and ‘bubbles’ because so many people do wine events and beer events, and we thought this would be something different,” says Kevin Tunstall, who, with Gounaris and others, is helping organize the event. “Bourbon is kind of a hot spirit right now. We’re going to have about 25 different bourbons and 15 to 20 ‘bubbles.’”

Viva la Strings, a trio of cello, viola, and violin, will provide musical entertainment, while Elite Catering will supply gourmet hors d’oeuvres. Admission grants each attendee eight tastes, though cocktails can also be purchased. The DAI art galleries will be open until the event begins, for those who wish to come early.

For true connoisseurs, the Century Bar VIP Speakeasy Lounge will serve premium cocktails and food, including select rare varieties of bourbon and whiskey.

The Dayton Art Institute, which still sits looking out over the Great Miami River and downtown Dayton, was completed in 1930, providing a grand and glorious space for the Dayton Museum of Arts that started up in 1919 at a downtown mansion by the movers and shakers of the time—Orville Wright, the Patterson brothers, and other prominent citizens. One, Julia Shaw Carnell, donated close to $2 million to construct and endow the facility.

The building is in the style of Italian Renaissance and Italian Revival and is listed in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. It houses a permanent collection of over 26,000 pieces, which it rotates in and out of exhibition, including such artists as Peter Paul Rubens, Edward Hopper, Dale Chihuly, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, and Andy Warhol. It hosts special exhibitions, and it promotes art through its extensive educational programs.

The Dayton Art Institute brought prestige to the community then and continues to the prestige of the community now. According to Eric Brockman, marketing and communications manager for DAI, the economic impact on the Dayton Metro Area is close to $8 million dollars annually. The museum is well known in the national arts community.

“It’s not just a beautiful building on the river,” Gounaris says. “It is an anchor in our arts community that helps us stay vibrant and puts us [Dayton] on the map—there are many things about Dayton that have put us on the map, the history of the city, itself is truly remarkable—but, at the museum, we’re proud to work in conjunction with the other arts organizations, and with other nonprofit organizations in town to ensure that we’re not just thriving, but that together as a community we are helping Dayton be the better community it can be.”

Prohibition in the U.S. lasted 13 years, from 1920 to 1933. An attempt to stymy alcoholism, and other social “ills,” it instead led to bootlegging, organized crime, and the “speakeasy.” A rebelliousness took over the nation, as flappers bobbed their hair, raised their hemlines, and flaunted convention. The automobile was new and easily carried people from speakeasy to speakeasy throughout the “Roaring ’20s.” Prohibition ended just in time for those who needed to drown their sorrows with the crash of Wall Street and the following Depression.

In real time, the museum would have opened about the time Prohibition was ending—in the early 1930s—though for a brief period, they could have coexisted. So, on April 21, people can close their eyes and imagine a time when illicit booze brought people together—people who didn’t normally mingle—for dancing and drinking and having a good time.


Bourbon and Bubbles takes place Friday, April 21 at the Dayton Art Institute, 456 Belmonte Park N. in Grafton Hill. The event runs from 7-10 p.m. Tickets are $45 for museum members and $55 for non-members. For tickets or more information, please contact 937.223.4ART (4278) or the museum’s Guest Services Desk during regular hours, or visit

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Freelance writer Terri Gordon writes across a range of topics, including nature, health, and homes and gardens. She holds a masters in English and occasionally teaches college composition and literature. Her blog, WordWorks ( is a "bulletin board" of some of her favorite things.

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