Inside the speakeasies of the 1920s
Prohibition bars are all the rage in New York City.
But today’s over-priced, often pretentious, watering holes are nothing like the speakeasies of the 1920s and ’30s they’re trying to recreate.
Ninety years ago, there were hundreds of illegal drinking spots in New York, and the speakeasies – which were often just a hidden room with barely drinkable booze – were mostly run by gangsters.
While many of today’s incarnations will disappear as quickly as they’ve popped up, some of the infamous night spots of the prohibition era have stood the test of time, making an unforgettable mark on the fabric of New York.
Two of the Big Apple’s most popular speakeasies were The Cotton Club in Harlem and the Stork Club, which was originally on 58th Street in Manhattan then moved to 53rd Street.
After prohibition ended in 1933, the bars became magnets for movie stars, celebrities, wealthy New Yorkers and showgirls.
Chumley’s on 86 Bedford Street in Manhattan was also a popular speakeasy, opening in 1922, three years into prohibition, on the site of a former blacksmith shop.
When warned of a police raid, the Chumley’s staff were told to send their customers out the Bedford Street door. For some reason, the police would always enter through the Pamela Court entrance, allowing the customers to escape without being seen.
A taxi pulls up to the entrance of The Stork Club as people standing under the awning watch
Chumley’s became a favorite spot for influential writers, poets, playwrights, journalists, and activists and was even mentioned in an episode of ‘Mad Men’ as a destination for after-work drinks. It sadly closed in 2007 when a chimney collapsed in its dining room.
Connie’s Inn on 7th Avenue and West 131st Street gave the Cotton Club a run for its money, booking jazz acts like Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, and Fletcher Henderson. But the bar shut down as soon as prohibition ended, seeing no fun in selling booze legally.
Landmark Tavern opened its doors in 1868, long before the government banned the booze. The tavern, located on what was then the waterfront of the Hudson, started as an Irish saloon and the family who ran it lived on the second and third floors.
When prohibition was imposed, they had to transform the third floor into a speakeasy in order to support themselves. The bar was never raided and has been open consistently since 1868.
Chumley’s on 86 Bedford Street in Manhattan was also a popular speakeasy, opening in 1922 on the site of a former blacksmith shop
Attribution: Helen Pow