It might be hard to believe looking around nowadays, but the production and consumption of alcohol was once illegal in the US. Those 13 distant years left a legacy that can still be traced into modern times, be it via the birth of Nascar or the unique cocktails hitherto unknown—Gin Rickeys, anyone? But it’s the lore of the speak-easy that is without a doubt one of the more interesting cultural phenomena to emerge from Prohibition.
Here’s some fun facts about speakeasies that you might not have known. Oh, what’s that? Why are we talking about speak-easies here on the new Vero Amore website? uh…we just like…pre-war American history….yeah…Nothing going on here…no sir.
What’s in a Name?
Most folks know why they were called “speakeasies,” but there’s actually a few reasons depending on your source: one story goes that saying the password to get in required “speaking easy” so the whole county didn’t know what you were up to. Others say that the name came from what you had to do once you were inside: keep those voices to a dull roar so that the neighbors don’t start noticing voices from that “supply closet”…or up out through the floorboards in some cases. And others yet assert that the name referenced how patrons should act in public, namely “speaking easy” about their…extracurricular activities. But one name for these establishments that might not seem so self-explanatory is “blind pig.” Apparently some proprietors of less reputable speak-easies charged their guests to see “attractions”—often animals with unusual characteristics, hence the name, or other sideshow-esque features—which were accompanied by a “complimentary” alcoholic beverage. This setup sidestepped the law against purchasing alcohol, as actually drinking alcohol wasn’t illegal, and everyone was happy…except maybe the pig.
More than Alcohol
Though alcohol was probably on the minds of many a speakeasy patron as they whispered their passwords to enter, music was a key component of what kept them in their seats. Though music was rarely featured in the early days of Prohibition, it was almost an expected fixture of most high-end speakeasies at the dawn of the 1930s. They became hot spots for talent scouts to frequent as they worked to uncover the next music chart or cabaret performance sensation. And speakeasies also served as important proliferation sites in the development and popularization of American jazz music. Because, let’s face it, who doesn’t want to listen to Duke Ellington’s sassy horn section while sipping a scotch on the rocks?
They Didn’t all Die Out in 1933
With the passing of the 21st Amendment that repealed Prohibition, speakeasies didn’t just dry up. The classier ones simply turned into bars and a select few are actually still in operation today, like the 21 Club in New York. But the 21st century has also brought a renewed interest in America’s pre-war past, and the speakeasy has made a triumphant return in many American cities. Although no longer actually illegal, modern speakeasies are dressed up in 1920s glory and decadence, with music, dress, and adornments to match.
So if you want to take a step back in time, stop by Vero Amore and…um…maybe ask one of our staff if they know any good ones. We’ve heard of one in Tucson called “The Still,” but…they seem pretty secretive and nobody knows where it is. It must be a good one, but you didn’t hear it from us.