Were you aware that Alcatraz could be rented out for events, for a price? Neither were we! Leave it to major liquor distributor William Grant & Sons, who came to the Bay Area to host a booze-industry fete and butter up a bevy of local beverage folks, to inform us. The occasion was Repeal Day (the repeal of Prohibition), which is actually not until December 5th, and the theme was, appropriately 1920s/Speakeasy. But you should know, those of you who might want to throw your own party on The Rock, you've got to abide by the Park Service's rules in bringing people out there: everyone has to get walked up the hill by a ranger, who tells you some stuff about the island's history; and everyone has to take the self-guided audio tour of the prison once inside. After that, we were free to booze it up.
It was especially cool because night tour tickets are hard to come by for touring the spooky building -- which one very stoic ranger insists is not the least bit haunted... "The only unusual things we ever see on this island get off that boat you just road in on." The last night tour ferry usually leaves at 7 p.m. these days, which was when we arrived, for our history lesson before drinking.
Fact: There is no natural soil on the island. It was literally just rock until the military shipped in some dirt and planted a few trees.
Fact: they've got a former Alcatraz prison guard they call in for such occasions, who does a little spiel and talks about getting stabbed in the leg his first week on the job in 1950. (He still lives in S.F. and says they have an Alcatraz alumni reunion every August.) The prison, in case you didn't know, was closed in 1963, and later played host to a nineteen-month occupation by Native American activists (and assorted hippies) that began in November 1969, and which is credited with raising awareness of Native American civil rights, and which ended with several buildings on the island being burned.