The birth and rise of speakeasies came about during the Prohibition Era (1920-1930), also known as the Roaring Twenties. During this period, it was illegal to sell, transport and manufacture alcoholic beverages throughout the United States. Speakeasies were bars in hidden sections of establishments where illicit drinks were sold. Here are some interesting facts:
The Code of Entry
Since speakeasies were home to illicit activity, they required proof upon entry that customers were not in fact secret agents. Such proof would be a secret password, a handshake, or a special knock. Many of them issued membership cards, and most establishments had a bouncer at the door where strangers would only be admitted if they knew the owner, the password, or if they could somehow produce the card of a trusted reference.
A Huge Boom
The purpose behind the Prohibition was to make America dry in order to reduce crime rates and gang activity, but it ironically backfired. New Jersey claimed that there were 10 times as many watering holes as before the amendment, and it was thought that New York had as many as 100,000 speakeasies, which amounts to twice the number prior to the Prohibition. It was calculated that for every bar that closed down during the period, another three opened up in its place.
A Newfound Freedom for Women
During the Prohibition, speakeasies inspired new forms of sociability between men and women. Before this, bars rarely ever welcomed women because they were expected to stay home, but the new world of nightclubs and jazz paved the way for young fashionable women (known as flappers) to embrace their new sense of independence and liberation.
Apart from women breaking the taboo, gangster-run speakeasies also provided a bridge for different social classes and races to mix socially, very often for the first time. As jazz and blues took over the nightlife scene, particularly in areas like Harlem, white people were drawn to speakeasies where interracial couples would share drinks and conversation and maybe even dance.
Mixed Drinks and Martinis
Before the Prohibition, America was known for its exceptional cocktails, and European bartenders even travelled to the US to learn and perfect their skills in the art of mixology. When the Prohibition took effect, the best and most well-trained bartenders had no choice but to either leave the US to tend bars in Europe, or to find another trade. This left the US with nothing but amateur bathtub gin and moonshine which were very harsh and somewhat unbearable to drink. For this reason, speakeasy bartenders used juices and sweeteners to dilute the flavour, and thus the martini and mixed drink culture was born.
Many bars around the world try to recapture the glamour of the 1920s, and The Thirsty Barber is the first to do so in Malta. So if you’re a fan of the Roaring Twenties and love a good night out, be sure to pop down to St Julian’s for a great night of delicious drinks, fantastic music, and an authentic 1920s atmosphere.