prohibition 5-1-2013

A Thirst for Justice

A brief history of the speakeasy

“Prohibition is better than no liquor at all.” – Will Rogers

Imagine a world bereft of your favorite watering hole and bartender. A bleak landscape where you couldn’t walk into your corner liquor store and pick up a bottle of scotch. This cruel joke was once a living nightmare called Prohibition, the social experiment that possessed American culture for more than a decade. Since then it has been glorified, vilified and held as a golden age of decadence and moral abandon in the face of the law. Although prohibition ended more than a better half of a century ago, its practices and culture of drinking live on in spirit(s).

From 1920 to 1933 the sale, manufacture and transport of alcoholic beverages was banned due to efforts of the temperance movement. However, the act of consuming alcohol itself was never illegal and, speakeasies covertly emerged in respected and lowbrow venues alike to satiate the nation’s thirst.

Because of the amount of smuggling and bootlegging required for liquor to get into the right hands (bathtub gin was obviously not an option for higher end clientele) organized crime bore a large role in carrying and selling liquor. This only incited the Bureau of Prohibition, who worked in tandem with local police forces, to carry out raids and arrest those a few whiskey sours outside the law.

The speakeasies that managed to not only survive, but thrive, in the face of danger prospered thanks to exclusive clientele, secret passwords and a respectable amount of tact. The most legendary speakeasy, The 21 Club, was never caught, although it was raided multiple times. As soon as a raid began, an intricate series of levers magically swept liquor bottles from their cabinets, down a chute, and into the city’s sewers. All the police would find was a well-dressed collection of patrons enjoying the delightful, non-alcoholic fare the restaurant had to offer.

Even after prohibition was repealed in 1933, certain elements remained. Women, once barred from public drinking, were welcomed into the underground speakeasy culture and enjoyed their G&T’s, now that imbibing was no longer taboo. Jazz, the sound of a once muffled generation, took the limelight and defined the decade when F. Scott Fitzgerald knighted the 20’s  “The Jazz Age”.

Cheers to those who have kept the speakeasy culture alive, as a historical nod and quiet appreciation to those who survived a rather dry time in American history.

That highball in your hand? Remember, that stands for freedom.

TAGS: 21 club | bathtub gin | bootlegging | Brooks Brothers | F. Scott Fitzgerald | jazz age | of rogues and gentlemen | prohibition | smuggling | speakeasies | temperance movement | volstead act

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