The Beginner’s Guide to Visiting a Speakeasy

December 12, 2019

The speakeasies of prohibition-era America were once infamous for being hiding places for mobsters, high-class citizens, and regular folks alike. With the ban on alcoholic products from 1920-1933, these hidden drinking dens became the Mecca for people just looking to have a drink. Here’s the beginner’s guide to visiting the modern speakeasy, but don’t worry; you won’t be arrested for consuming alcohol in one of these now-legal establishments.

They Were Once Illegal, but No Longer

1920s America: the First World War had ended just ended barely two years prior, catapulting the US into the global marketplace as a powerhouse of industry and capital. The Great Depression hadn’t gripped the nation with icy fingers quite yet, but a certain law was to be passed that would make the next thirteen years of American history both violent and profitable.

A focus on “restoring the moral fiber” of the nation and reducing crime and corruption in both high and low places led to the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment to the US Constitution in 1920. The law effectively banned the use and consumption of alcoholic beverages and products, except in certain circumstances (such as religious wine).

All things considered, prohibition is generally regarded as a failure in its original goal. From prohibition sprung organized crime, with the Italian Mafia and other crime families taking up the cause and smuggling alcohol to hidden drinking establishments: the “speakeasies” as they were called. Bootleggers would modify their primitive vehicles to outrun police cars, which is actually where stock car racing originated.

Speakeasies were, of course, illegal establishments under federal law. Nowadays, however, you can visit one of these hidden dens of history without the fear of the fed kicking in the door. Whether you’re in the city of sin looking for a Las Vegas Speakeasy or in Chicago, the once-powerful crime hub of the Italian Mafia, you’ll be able to experience a piece of history.

The End of an Era

The law was eventually revoked in 1933, and although it’s suggested that such things as sclerosis of the liver and infant mortality rates declined during prohibition, overall, the law didn’t work as well as it was hoped it would. Speakeasies thrived, violent crimes rose, and corruption became more rampant than ever.

Traditional values were challenged in this thrilling time of Jazz, economic growth, and violence. The prohibition era came crashing down with the onset of the Great Depression, which would carry the country through a time of economic decline and deprivation until nearly 1941 when the US finally entered World War Two. 

They’re Often Hidden

Since speakeasies were illegal, they were often hidden in plain sight. Entrances to these establishments were known to only a select few and were often hidden down alleyways, behind walls, and other clever hiding spots. Chicago’s Drifter speakeasy is located beneath The Green Door Tavern, for instance. The organizers behind these establishments had to be extra careful, as 1920s America was a turbulent time. The police were dedicated to enforcing the newly enacted legislation, and once the nation’s men in blue learned of the speakeasy trend, they began to seek them out.

Visiting a speakeasy today, you’ll likely find memorabilia on the walls; everything from pictures and plaques from the era to the original bar in some cases. Your modern speakeasies are the perfect balance of history and modernization, and you’ll find all of the comforts of a modern bar and then some.

Enjoy a piece of history with these unique drinking spots. You’ll feel like you’re being transported back to the prohibition era! Some modern speakeasies even host “Prohibition Events”, where the theme is the 1920s and prohibition is still the law.

Keep it Classy

If you’re visiting a speakeasy, there may be a dress code in effect, as they’re so often was in the days of prohibition. Some speakeasies were only for the upper-class citizens of the nation, where politicians, gangsters, movie stars, and the filthy rich would gather en masse. You wouldn’t find yourself in one of these establishments with overalls and a dirty t-shirt!

Keep things classy and dress the part of your city’s speakeasy has a dress code. The dress code will help you truly immerse yourself in the experience, making you feel like one of the law-breaking citizens of the 1920s.

Enjoy Yourself!

The entire purpose of the speakeasy is for you to have a good time! Modern speakeasies have more refined alcoholic choices than their great-grandfathers’ and can offer modern comforts like WiFi as well. Be sure to try some of the house’s signature drinks, and don’t forget to look around for a piece of history.

The Bottom Line

While speakeasies may have once been American’s hidden dens of debauchery, they’re no longer illegal; nor are the drinks that are served there. You’ll find speakeasies in most big cities, but you might have to look harder to spot one! It’s best to search for them online prior to looking, or else you may never find them. Enjoy this piece of history and a stiff drink in the comfort of a hidden venue.

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Andi Perullo de Ledesma

I am Andi Perullo de Ledesma, a Chinese Medicine Doctor and Travel Photojournalist in Charlotte, NC. I am also wife to Lucas and mother to Joaquín. Follow us as we explore life and the world one beautiful adventure at a time.

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