Speakeasy: Wikis


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New York's 21 Club was a Prohibition-era speakeasy.

A speakeasy (aka a blind pig or blind tiger) was an establishment that illegally sold alcoholic beverages during the period of United States history known as Prohibition (1920–1933, longer in some states). During this time, the sale, manufacture, and transportation (bootlegging) of alcoholic beverages was illegal throughout the United States.



The term may have come from a patron’s manner of ordering an alcoholic drink without raising suspicion — bartenders would tell patrons to be quiet and “speak easy”[1] — or from patrons’ freedom to talk about alcohol without fear that a government official might be listening.

Speakeasies became more popular and numerous as the Prohibition years progressed and more of them were operated by people connected to organized crime. Although police and Bureau of Prohibition agents would raid them and arrest the owners and patrons, the business of running speakeasies was so lucrative that they continued to flourish throughout America. In major cities, speakeasies were often quite elaborate, offering food, live music, floor shows, and striptease dancers. Corruption was rampant — speakeasy operators routinely bribed police to leave them alone or to give them advance notice of raids.

Blind pigs and blind tigers

The Mayflower Club was considered the swankiest Prohibition-era speakeasy in Washington, DC. It offered patrons liquor and gambling.

The term blind pig (or blind tiger) originated in the United States in the nineteenth century; it was applied to establishments that sold alcoholic beverages illegally. The operator of an establishment (such as a saloon or bar) would charge customers to see an attraction (such as an animal) and then serve a “complimentary” alcoholic beverage, thus circumventing the law.

“In desperate cases it has to betake itself to the exhibition of Greenland pigs and other curious animals, charging 25 cents for a sight of the pig and throwing in a gin cocktail gratuitously.”[2]

The difference between a speakeasy and a blind pig was that a speakeasy was usually a higher-class establishment that offered food, music, live entertainment, or even all three. In large cities, some speakeasies even required a coat and tie for men, and evening dress for women. But a blind pig was usually a low-class dive where only beer and liquor were offered.

Estimates of the number of blind pigs in three major American cities during the mid-1920s are:[citation needed]

Hidden secrets

In many rural towns, small speakeasies were operated by local business owners as a way of making extra money. These family secrets were often kept even after Prohibition ended. For example, in 2007 secret underground rooms thought to have been a speakeasy were found by renovators on the grounds of the Cyber Cafe West in Binghamton, New York.[3] Another such room was found in a family house in Washington DC.[citation needed]


The federal Volstead Act, which was passed with new authority from the Eighteenth Amendment, put Prohibition into effect on January 16, 1920. It lasted for almost 14 years. After years of lobbying by the temperance movement (mainly by the Anti-Saloon League and the Woman's Christian Temperance Union), the states had passed laws forbidding the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcoholic beverages.

The first state to go entirely “dry” was Kansas in 1881. States that did not go dry were called “wet states”.

See also


  1. ^ Allen, Irving (1995). The City in Slang: New York Life and PopularSpeech (facsimile ed.). Oxford University Press, U.S.A. p. 72. ISBN 9780195092653. http://books.google.com/books?id=j41z0yeKbeIC&pg=PA72&lpg=PA72&dq=speakeasy+%22samuel+hudson%22&source=web&ots=BFCGn-pXrT&sig=e-i0CrtIzXK15bBnNicr-TbvqBE. 
  2. ^ MacRae, David (1870). The Americans at Home: Pen-and-Ink Sketches of American Men, Manners, and Institutions. Volume II. Edinburgh, Scotland. p. 315. 
  3. ^ "Speakeasy found in Cyber Cafe". http://www.bupipedream.com/Articles/Remains-of-speakeasy-found-in-Cyber-Cafe-parking-lot/4826. Retrieved 2009-06-30. 


  • Loretta Britten, Paul Mathless, ed. Our American Century Jazz Age: The 20’s. 1998. New York: Bishop books inc., 1969
  • “The Dry Years” The Roaring Twenties Encyclopedia. 2007 ed
  • The Twenties: The American destiny. London: Orbis Book Publishing Corporation Ltd. 1986
  • Kahn, Gordon, and Al Hirschfeld. (1932, rev. 2003). The Speakeasies of 1932. New York: Glenn Young Books. ISBN 1-557-83518-7


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