Thursday, December 4, 2008
PROHIBITION ENDS....75 YEARS AGO TODAY
My Dad was born in 1933, the year Prohibition ended. The government ban on alcohol lasted 13 years. That's pretty amazing. Imagine, you're 21 years old (legal drinking age) and you can't drink legally until you're 34! Yikes. The 21st amendment to the Constitution guarantees Americans the right to drink alcohol legally in bars. The anniversary is labeled "Repeal Day." During those 13 years, it's believed 30,000 speakeasy's opened up in New York City. Many had secret rooms behind hidden doors. Others served liquor in coffee mugs, rather than cocktail glasses. It's believed Al Capone made $60,000,000 bootlegging alcohol to the speakeasy's when he ran the mob in Chicago.
All across New York, bars, old and new will be celebrating the end of prohibition today.
Here's my list of the Top 5.
1) The Brooklyn Inn. Built in the late 1800's this place has seen its ups and downs. The back pool room was once a secret back room where drinking occured during prohibition. You can still see the little buzzers all along the walls that would summon a bartender to bring you a drink. The room was full of tables that could easily hide drinks.
2) Brooklyn Social. This was once an old Italian social club. Best we can tell it was fully operational during the Great Depression and during prohibition. It was a members only club. Vintage photos adorn the walls in the back. Now, bartenders in white linen jackets pour fancy Depression-era drinks.
3) Char #4. This is a brand new bourbon bar and restaurant with a Southern flair to their food. It's on Smith Street and it serves up the best selection of bourbons in the region. 1 ounce samples start at $3.00. The place has a smell of roasted wood and people have complained they go home smelling like that. The odor is coming from the rustic aged empty barrels of bourbon located around the place. It has a feel of a speakeasy, but never really was one.
4) Chumley's. This was one of my favorites when I lived in the West Village. Secretly located on Bedford Street, there were two entrances, one through a nondescript courtyard and the other through an unmarked front door. Inside, they had a large restaurant (with great lobster specials) and a back bar with just beer on tap. This place was one of the original speakeasy's, a secret hideaway during prohibition.
5) The Back Room. It is what it says. The back room was indeed a secret place where patrons would come to drink when drinking was illegal. They served up alcohol in coffee cups, so those walking by would think nothing of it. To this day, they still serve drinks this way. Today, on the 75th anniversary of prohibition, they'll serve up drink specials in those mugs. This is a hard place to find. It's located on the Lower East Side on Norwalk Street and the sign in front of the place reads, "Lower East Side Toy Company."