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The Speakeasy

  • In the early 20th century, the United States went through a period of time known as Prohibition, which prohibited the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcohol. The Prohibition era lasted from 1920 to 1933, and it led to the rise of a new kind of establishment: the speakeasy.

Speakeasies were illegal bars that served alcohol during Prohibition. The name “speakeasy” originated from the need for patrons to speak quietly or “easy” when discussing the location of the bar. These establishments were often hidden in plain sight, disguised as ordinary businesses such as soda shops, flower shops, or even funeral homes.

Speakeasies quickly became a popular destination for those who wanted to drink alcohol, and they were frequented by people from all walks of life, from gangsters to socialites. The atmosphere inside a speakeasy was often described as lively and energetic, with live music, dancing, and gambling. Speakeasies also became a symbol of rebellion against the government’s prohibition on alcohol. People felt that they had a right to drink and socialize, and they were willing to risk arrest to do so. The popularity of speakeasies grew, and it became increasingly difficult for law enforcement to shut them down.

The rise of speakeasies was not limited to the United States, however. Canada also experienced a surge in illegal drinking establishments during Prohibition. One of the most notorious was the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Montreal, which was transformed into a speakeasy by its owner, Vincent “The Schemer” Cotroni. The Ritz Carlton became a hub for organized crime and was known for its luxurious décor and high-end clientele. Despite the illegal nature of speakeasies, they were often frequented by prominent figures in society. Hollywood celebrities, politicians, and even the infamous gangster Al Capone were known to frequent these establishments. Speakeasies were seen as exciting and glamorous, and they provided an escape from the monotony of everyday life.

Speakeasies also had a significant impact on American culture. The music that was played in these establishments, including jazz and blues, became popular across the country. The fashion and style of speakeasies also had a lasting impact, with men wearing fedoras and women wearing flapper dresses and bobbed haircuts. The popularity of speakeasies began to decline in 1933, with the repeal of Prohibition. With the end of Prohibition, the need for secret and illegal drinking establishments disappeared. However, the legacy of the speakeasy lived on. Many of the cocktails that were invented during Prohibition, such as the Martini and the Manhattan, remain popular to this day.

The history of speakeasies is not without controversy. The illegal sale of alcohol often led to violence, corruption, and other criminal activities. Many speakeasies were run by organized crime syndicates, who used the establishments as a front for their illegal activities. The rise of speakeasies also contributed to the glamorization of gangsters in American culture, with figures like Al Capone becoming folk heroes in their own right. Despite these issues, speakeasies remain a fascinating part of American history. They were a testament to the human desire for socialization, rebellion, and entertainment, even in the face of government prohibition. They were also an example of American ingenuity and creativity, as people found ways to circumvent the law and create a thriving underground industry.


The legacy of speakeasies can still be seen today in the many bars and restaurants that pay homage to the Prohibition era. These establishments often feature vintage decor, classic cocktails, and live music reminiscent of the speakeasy era. The popularity of these bars demonstrates that the allure of the speakeasy is still alive and well.

In conclusion, the history of the speakeasy is a fascinating and important part of American history. It was a time of rebellion, creativity, and cultural transformation. The rise of speakeasies was a testament to the human spirit, as people found ways to enjoy life even in the face of government restrictions. Today, the legacy of the speakeasy lives on in the many bars and restaurants that continue to pay homage to this unique time in American history.

The impact of the speakeasy era can also be seen in the laws and regulations that govern alcohol consumption in the United States today. The repeal of Prohibition led to the creation of a regulatory framework that is still in place today, with laws governing the sale, distribution, and consumption of alcohol varying from state to state. The legacy of the speakeasy also highlights the potential consequences of banning certain substances, as well as the limits of government control over people’s behavior.

In addition to its cultural impact, the speakeasy era also had a significant economic impact. The illegal sale of alcohol during Prohibition created a thriving black market, with speakeasies, bootleggers, and other illegal operators making huge profits. This economic activity also had a multiplier effect, as people who worked in the speakeasy industry often spent their money on other goods and services. The repeal of Prohibition led to a significant loss of revenue for organized crime, but it also had a negative impact on the people who had made their living in the illegal alcohol industry.


Overall, the history of the speakeasy is a complex and multifaceted story that reflects many different aspects of American society. It is a story of rebellion, creativity, and cultural transformation, as well as a story of violence, corruption, and criminal activity. Today, the speakeasy era remains an important part of American culture, with its influence still visible in everything from the cocktails we drink to the music we listen to. As such, it is a period of history that continues to fascinate and intrigue us, and it is likely to remain an enduring part of the American cultural landscape for many years to come.