“In village taverns there were two places where to get together – in churches and in taverns. In taverns they would drink, play cards, clash with fists and loose property. What in the world would be more scary, that they would do in the taverns” – recall the oldest inhabitants in the Bukovyna.
In almost all the villages of the Bukovyna there were taverns, in some cases one counted up to ten taverns in a village. Generally in 1900 in the province one counted almost up to two thousand five hundred taverns and in 1909 – 2.861 taverns. The villagers met to talk and make agreements on buying or selling land, property or cattle. They would with a glass of vodka agree to the marrying of their children. In presence of witnesses they would shake hands and drink a toast.
“… On a Hutsul assembly, which would took place only before the tavern, came together the whole village. Here one would meet to talk as to which youngster how many times had asked which maiden girl to a dance or to drink a toast on a good deal or on the collected yields the field” so wrote Volodymyr Shukhevych, a scholar on Hutsul local traditions.
Drunkards were regular and respected guests
The tavern was simple –it was a standard village house with a larger room for guests with a counter with wooden poles at the front and a fenced off window. The wooden poles served them tavern-owner to secure his safety during fist-fights and to quietly demand after the clash a compensation of the damage. – writes Volodymyr Kodra, a scientific assistant of the Museum of local architecture and life. Traditional drinks were vodka, wine and beer. In some taverns they offered rum. During the Rumanian period one could drink mineral water and lemonade. An old inhabitant of the village Shilivtsi in the district of Khotyn, Vasyl Chelebiy recalled that in his village one buy vodka or barreled wine from Moldova. A liter of vodka cost 40 lei.
Tobacco was also sold –writes Volodymyr Kodra – a packet of tobacco cost 6 lei, it was forbidden to plant tobacco. “If they find two-three tobacco-bushes, you will lose your cows”, recalls an old man. To the tobacco one needed matches. One match cost 2 lei and you paid 20 lei or 10 matches. Such money was a day s work in the maize-fields.
“Under the Rumanians there was a lot of fighting in the taverns, drunkards were regular and respected guests. Each village had up to 10 of such people. Women would not frequent a tavern; it was rare that they would come shortly together. ..” – recalls Vasyl Chelebiy.
Some taverns had even two floors
In the majority of the taverns in the Bukovyna snacks were not served, here one could only drink. The guest would bring their own food or the wives of farmers brought food from home.
– On the territory of our museum there is a tavern in Novoselytsya – writes Volodymyr, – here they served wheat and rye bread, herrings, corned beef, cheese, sheep’s cheese (brynza), sauerkraut and cucumbers. They also sold basic foods like sugar, salt…
In the taverns, they offered money-lending. Old inhabitants relate that in the village of Malyntsi in the district of Khotyn in the years 1930-1940 there were not a few taverns, one of which had a Jewish owner. He often took property and land from the people for unpaid loans. The interest rates on his loans were very high and people could not manage to repay them.
In the village of Moshynets in the district of Kelmentsi there were five taverns and two counters (shops), – continues Volodymyr, – one of the taverns had a drive-in inner courtyard. Here one could change horses, repair the cart or carriage. The building had two floors. On the first floor was the tavern, the second floor was used for guest-rooms. This place was owned by the brothers Rusnak.
Some interesting figures about village taverns in the Bukovyna
– In the years 1880-1890 the annual consummation of alcohol drinks per person was 5,3 – 5,4 liter in pure alcohol.
– Until 1885 vodka was sold in buckets on a cash and carry principle. A branded bottle of vodka was patented only in 1894.
In the years 1906-1909 the population of the province annually sold alcoholic products for 15 million crowns – beer 3 million, wine – 3,5 million and vodka for 8,5 million crowns.
In 1910 in the small village of Ust-Putyla with 779 inhabitants there were 13 taverns.
Memories of a tavern-owner in the Bukovyna
“I owned a tavern. In those days, they did not drink as today. Portions of vodka were between 10 and 15 grams. So a portion of 25 grams under Rumania was called “Bolshevik”. Who drank such a portion in one time was regarded as a terrible drunkard. Two-three guests would order a quarter and a glass of beer. The glass contained 250 grams. They would sit until morning, talk and sing or play bowling”. (From the memoires of Semen Chevyuk, an inhabitant of the village Ust-Putyla in the book “Bukovyna and Bukovyntsi”).