establishment that illegally sells alcoholic beverages; now, retro style bars

Speakeasies were once a popular way of getting an alcoholic drink during the U.S.'s Prohibition era. Today, some bars recreate the speakeasy feel.

UnderstandEdit

From 1920-1933, it was illegal to produce, import, or sell alcoholic beverages anywhere in the United States. This wildly unpopular law had long-reaching consequences:

  • Most breweries and distilleries were forced to close. Many of them never reopened, and the American beer market declined into a handful of pale flavorless lagers until half a century later, when a grassroots movement reinvigorated the market.
  • Many people took to bootlegging or rum-running, using souped-up cars and boats that could outrun the police to deliver illegal moonshine or imported alcohol from Canada and Mexico. This would later give rise to motorsports like drag racing and NASCAR.
  • Crime gangs that had just been running small extortion rackets turned into huge organized crime mobs. Kingpins like Al Capone raked in the equivalent of a billion dollars a year from importing alcohol and providing security for illegal bars. After Prohibition, they continued to be involved in money laundering, gambling, and nightclubs, even profiting off of running gay bars at a time when LGBT discrimination was legal.
  • Many illegal bars opened in secret. These were known as speakeasies, as patrons were frequently reminded to "speak easy [quietly]" about their existence or while inside one to avoid attracting attention. Within those walls, a major shift in cocktail mixology occurred as many new cocktails were created in order to make something palatable from rough-tasting moonshine.

A variety of tactics were employed to keep police raids from finding the alcohol at speakeasies. Some would hide the bar and bartender: you would put money in a drawer and make a request, and when you opened the drawer again it would have your drink in it, served by a bartender behind the wall. Others concealed the entire establishment using tricks worthy of a spy film such as hidden doors (often inside a legitimate business as a front) or secret code words. Some had alarms so that when police raided, staff could hide or dump all of the liquor before the police could find it.

After Prohibition was repealed, bars became legal again and most speakeasies disappeared, although a few simply converted themselves into proper bars and continue to operate today.

In the 21st century, a number of modern bars have opened with a speakeasy theme. They're completely legal (they register as a business and pay taxes) and they serve name-brand and generally high-quality liquor instead of moonshine (thankfully). However, the retro theme of being a speakeasy usually involves staying hidden through both a lack of advertising and often some kind of hidden entrance, the decor and style is often old-fashioned, and the focus is usually on classic craft cocktails.

Historic speakeasiesEdit

  • 21 Club, 21 W 52nd St, New York City. One of the more famous speakeasies with a reliable method of disposing of liquor through tipping bar shelves, and a hidden wine cellar accessible only from the building next door. Now a very upscale restaurant and bar, with a private dining room in the converted wine cellar.
  • Chumley's, 86 Bedford St, New York City. Now a dinner restaurant.
  • Delmonico's, 56 Beaver St, New York City. Although it's changed ownership and been shuttered several times, this was the location of a genuine speakeasy.
  • Gallagher's Steakhouse, 228 W 52nd St, New York City. After Prohibition, it became a steakhouse and the origin of the "New York Strip" steak.
  • KGB, 85 E 4th St, New York City.
  • Light Horse Tavern, 199 Washington St, Jersey City. The restaurant is new, but the building was a speakeasy during Prohibition.
  • Arizona Biltmore Hotel, 2400 E Missouri Ave, Phoenix. The second floor "Mystery Room" was ostensibly the "Men's Smoking Room" where male guests would go to smoke cigars, but a revolving bookcase hid a speakeasy. Today it's used as a meeting and conference room.
  • Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co., Philadelphia.

Modern speakeasiesEdit

While we'll tell you more or less where these bars are and what they're like inside, we won't tell you how to get in. Figuring that out for yourself is part of the fun of going to a speakeasy!

CaliforniaEdit

ColoradoEdit

DCEdit

  • The Gibson.

GeorgiaEdit

  • Red Phone Booth, 17 Andrew Young Intl Blvd NE, Atlanta.
  • GA Chapter Room, 5600 Roswell Rd, Sandy Springs. A beer bar run by local restaurant chain Taco Mac. You used to have to accumulate a large number of beers on your loyalty account to be let in, but now entrance is free to anyone who can find it.
  • Muss & Turner's, Smyrna.

IllinoisEdit

  • Room 13, Chicago. Just like the antique decor, the cocktails only use Prohibition-era ingredients.
  • The Violet Hour, Chicago.

MassachusettsEdit

New YorkEdit

OregonEdit

TexasEdit

  • Midnight Cowboy, 6th St, Austin. Located in a former brothel.

WashingtonEdit

  • Deep Dive, Seattle.
  • Knee High Stocking Co., Seattle.
  • Needle & Thread, Seattle. There's no menu here; just talk to the bartender about what kind of drinks you like, and they'll create a custom drink for you. Lovely dark interior with antique high back chairs and lounge sofas.
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