Calling Boo Boo Hoff

Proust got a book out of a dessert item. I went looking for a column in a bottle of Beef, Wine & Iron.

It's an old one. Couple years back we pulled a wooden box out of the attic. Inside, wrapped in a 1921 Public Ledger, were a dozen or so medicine bottles from the Mr. Anthony's Apothecary, which was two blocks down our street, and last time I looked was a catering business.

My wife polished the better looking bottles, and we kept the weird swollen pills and now-crystallized powers. One empty bottle, label intact, read "Rexall's Beef, Wine & Iron." (no, not the one pictured - that's Beef, Iron & Wine, which must have inspired the makers of the video below.)

It took a phone conversation with Daniel Okrent, author of the just-released "Last Call," a history of Prohibition, to understand why that bottle was empty. Today's metro column cures tired blood.

One reader chimes in:

Alex Kane, age 90, called with a tale about Boo Boo Hoff, the Russian Jewish gangster who kept the city in drink during Prohibition. Kane recalled how Hoff's nephew, Al Berman, used to sport a Rolex watch inscribed:

"To my good friend" and signed "Al Capone."

Kane's father had a sheet metal factory at 9th and Dauphin. During Prohibition, Kane's dad taught him to cut and solder strange watering cans out of a mixture of copper and tin.

"You know what they were?" he asked. "They were brassieres."

Women in need of cash would wear these contraptions around the neighborhood and from them discreet ly dispense Scotch, rye and vodka, he said. A quarter a shot, 15 cents for a half shot.

If anyone has a picture of one of these, please send it along. Who knew?