During the Prohibition years from 1920 to 1933, alcoholic beverages were illegal in the United States. But it was still fairly easy to get a drink. One of the easiest ways was to find a speakeasy—a hidden bar that served bootleg liquor and that often required a password to get in. Legend has it that the name speakeasy came from patrons being told to “speak easy,” or softly, so the police wouldn’t hear the party.
When the Volstead Act, which put Prohibition in place, was repealed in 1933, 80 years ago on December 5th, the speakeasies disappeared. But if you want to revisit that time in a new way, you have your chance because modern speakeasies have popped up all over the country. These bars take the mystery and romance of history and create a fun atmosphere.
Hallmarks of the modern speakeasy include:
1) Individually mixed drinks with fresh ingredients, often invented at that bar. We’re talking fresh, muddled fruit and innovative concoctions. A far cry from the quality of spirits found in most speakeasies back in the day. This also means you pay more than you would for an average cocktail, and depending on the city you’re in, it can be a lot more.
2) An unmarked door or a misleading sign. You have to know where the speakeasy is. Most doors are unmarked, but I’ve visited one behind the façade of a Fortune Telling shop and another where you had to go into a restaurant and pick up an antique phone to gain admittance.
3) Reservations are commonly a must, and many times, you’ll need a password. It pays to do your research. I’ve never had trouble getting into a popular place—as long as I made a reservation and knew in advance if I needed a password.
4) An intimate atmosphere with lots of attention from your bartender to help you get exactly what you want. These places are small (thus the need for reservatinos), and the décor is well planned. Many of the speakeasies even play the music of the time.
Are you ready to go? Some friends and I started visiting these places as we traveled, and we've compiled our Top Ten list from around the country. So here are my favorites in no particular order:
[Suddenly... so ... thirsty...]