Jake Walk … Like It’s Always Been There – A Brooklyn Life

Jake Walk is an odd name for a cute bar. At least that’s my assessment from the street. Owned by the Smith & Vine/Stinky Brooklyn people, it’s been open for a couple of weeks now, and on St. Patty’s Day was serving a roomful of drinkers. Wine, cheese and little snacks are keeping the yuppies happy … heh, I said it. Yuppie or not, I love a good wine bar and will probably quaff a cocktail or two once I get this whole pregnancy thing over with.
I can’t say I’m sad to see Quench (the space’s former occupant) go. Jake Walk is on the corner of Smith and Sackett streets. And if you’re wondering about that weird name, it’s a reference to the paralytic gait that many Southerners got from drinking bad moonshine during Prohibition. Drink up!
Stupid and offensive name for a tony wine and cheese place. See the following:
Jamaican Ginger Extract (known in the United States by the slang name Jake) was an early 20th century patent medicine that provided a convenient way to bypass Prohibition laws, since it contained between 70-80% ethyl alcohol by weight.
Jake was not itself dangerous, but the U.S. Treasury Department, which administered the Prohibition laws, recognized its potential as an illicit alcohol source and required changes in the solids content of jake to discourage drinking. The requirement of at least 5 grams of ginger solids per cubic centimeter of alcohol resulted in a fluid that was extremely bitter and difficult to drink. Occasionally Department of Agriculture inspectors would test shipments of Jake by boiling the solution and weighing the remaining solid residue. In an effort to trick regulators, bootleggers replaced the ginger solids with a small amount of ginger and either castor oil or molasses.
A pair of amateur chemists and bootleggers, Harry Gross and Max Reisman, worked to develop an alternative adulterant that would pass the tests, but still be somewhat palatable. They settled on a plasticizer, tri-o-tolyl phosphate (also known as tri-ortho cresyl phosphate or TOCP), that was able to pass the Treasury Department’s tests but preserved jake’s drinkability. TOCP was originally thought to be non-toxic; however, it was later determined to be a neurotoxin that causes axonal damage to the nerve cells in the nervous system of human beings, especially those located in the spinal cord. The resulting type of paralysis is now referred to as organophosphate-induced delayed neuropathy (OPIDN).
In 1930, large numbers of jake users began to lose the use of their hands and feet. Some victims could walk, but they had no control over the muscles which would normally have enabled them to point their toes upward. Therefore, they would raise their feet high with the toes flopping downward, which would touch the pavement first followed by their heels. The toe first, heel second pattern made a distinctive “tap-click, tap-click” sound as they walked. This very peculiar gait became known as the jake walk and those afflicted were said to have jake leg, jake foot, or jake paralysis. Additionally, the calves of the legs would soften and hang down and the muscles between the thumbs and fingers would atrophy.
Within a few months, the TOCP adulterated jake was identified as the cause of the paralysis and the contaminated jake was recovered, but it was too late for many victims. Some users recovered full or partial use of their limbs, but for most, the loss was permanent. The total number of victims was never accurately determined, but is frequently quoted as between 30,000 to 50,000. Many victims were migrants to the United States and most were poor and consequently had little political or social influence. The victims received very little in the way of assistance, and aside from being the subject of a few blues songs in the early 1930s, they were almost completely forgotten.