Monday, August 20, 2012

The Speakeasy

  • Even though the 18th Amendment went into effect, people still wanted to drink.
  • To circumvent the new law, saloon owners came up with the idea of charging customers to see an attraction (like an animal) and then serving them a complimentary alcoholic beverage.  An example would be charging 25 cents to see a pig and throwing in a free gin cocktail. These places were low-class dives, known as Blind Pigs and Blind Tigers and served only beer and liquor. 
  • The Speakeasies, on the other hand, were the high-class establishments that sold alcohol illegally, but they offered their fashionable customers not only liquor, but food and entertainment as well.  Some speakeasies required men wear coats and ties and women evening dresses.
  • Bartenders told their customers to be quiet, or speak easy, when they ordered an illegal alcoholic drink so they wouldn't raise suspicion.  
  • The saloon had been off limits to women before this, but now they went in droves to the speakeasies to enjoy a cocktail.  The speakeasy quickly became the "cat's pajamas" and the "bees knees!" 
  • When one saloon shut down, a half-dozen underground speakeasies opened up.  They operated in basements, top floors, or abandoned buildings with back entrances.  The majority of big-city speakeasies were established and controlled by organized crime.  
  • To strengthen their security, a lot of speakeasies required a password be given to the guy guarding the door.  Some required membership cards or secret phrases, like "Frankie sent me."  
  • Daily raids became the norm, but the club owners cleverly incorporated sophisticated warning systems to intercept them.  When a raid went off as planned, the owner would do jail time, the speakeasy would be smashed to pieces, and the alcohol  dumped down the sewer or in the river.  
  • Some speakeasies served liquor in teacups with saucers, so if there was a raid, it would look like the patrons were abiding by the no-alcohol law.
  • Speakeasies were a major reason for the development of jazz music.  By offering music, a bar could draw more business.  
  • As the years of Prohibition advanced, so did the number of speakeasies.  With the increase of speakeasies, there also came a rise in police corruption.  Especially in NYC.  Bar owners granted bribes to enforcement teams to avoid raids or just to give them a heads up if a raid was on its way.
  • Gin and vodka replaced rum and whiskey as cocktail ingredients at speakeasies, because they didn't require as much aging and were easier to make illegally.
  • The 21 Club, one of New York's most notorious speakeasies, outsmarted law enforcement with a series of bells and whistles to alert their management that a raid was about to take place.  The biggest secret of the 21 Club was the wine cellar.  A two-ton brick wall built on hinges was used to hide smuggled goods from the police.  The only instrument that would open the secret door was a meat skewer.
  •  Speakeasies are historical landmarks that bring the legends of the Roaring Twenties back to life.   

"For every prohibition you create,
 you also create an underground."
  ~Jello Biafra