Way back when, booze was actually outlawed in America. Crazy right? And still dumb things managed to happen, which totally kills the argument that alcohol causes stupidity. But that’s a discussion for another day.
Out of the quagmire that was Prohibition rose an underground drinking institution that still exists today (if you know where to look) – the speakeasy.
What is a Speakeasy? Then and Now
Between 1920 and 1932 (give or take), selling, making and distributing booze was illegal. However, that didn’t stop us from drinking. No way, no how. Instead, getting sloshed went underground.
You’ve probably seen speakeasies in the movies. You know the scene. A trench coat-clad detective knocks on a back alley door and an eye-level panel slides open. The detective is surveyed, asked for a password, and then the door opens. Inside, another world appears full of server girls and well-dressed men with cigars and glasses of scotch. Under the dreary darkness of night, booze flowed freely, the entertainment kept on coming, and the party roared on (quietly, hence the name “speak easy”), much to the chagrin of law enforcement officials.
Fast forward to today, and modern speakeasies have taken all that was cool about their old school counterparts and removed what sucked (like bathtub alcohol that could kill you).
The Modern Speakeasy
Today, relatively secret, non-descript bars exist all over the country. While the sale of alcohol is now legal, it’s fun to act like it isn’t. Here are some characteristics of modern speakeasy-themed bars:
1. They’re hard to find
Speakeasies are everywhere and if you are in a major city, like New York or Chicago, you’ve probably walked past them a hundred times. Fact is, the owners of these establishments like to keep things on the downlow. It’s part of the allure of these places. One of my favorite joints here in New York is located in through a hot dog shop phone booth. You heard me.
If you want to get in on the action, do a little Googling, keep your ear to the ground, and pick a day to show up. Most places do NOT have covers or guestlists and are first come first serve. So keep that in mind.
2. They’re expensive
If you’re eating at an incredibly upscale restaurant, like Gordon Ramsey at the London, you know you aren’t going to walk away from dinner stuffed as if you demolished a $10.99 Chinese buffet. You know that you’re paying for incredible service, impeccable ingredients, and the simple fact that you get to be where you are.
Modern speakeasies use the finest ingredients and the best liquor they can get their hands on. And the bartenders? They probably prefer to be called mixologists. These people know alcohol types in and out, their subtle flavor differences and how to mix and match ingredients to create a cocktail to wow any palette.
Expect to pay upwards of $15 a drink, but realize that these are not meant to get you ripped. Do you remember the moment you realized that food was
more than just sustenance? These drinks are designed to do the same.
3. There are rules
The rules aren’t hard to follow, but they are all generally similar and may seem stupid if you’re used to hitting dive bars all the time. But once you’re inside, you’ll probably think differently.
Some places don’t allow you to stand. Some places don’t allow you to hit on women. Seriously. Other places demand that you actually “speak-easy” and keep your voice down – or they will kick you out. These places are far from stuffy so don’t get it twisted, but they like to keep a chill, sophisticated vibe.
Next time you’re looking for a different, more upscale and slightly mysterious drinking experience, try to find a speakeasy in your area. (I could give you the names of a few in major cities, but finding one is half the fun.) They make fantastic date spots and you’re guaranteed to impress. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s Friday and I have some… uh, business to attend to. See you inside.