A world without booze? What? Yes, it happened. Prohibition in the United States occurred between 1920 and 1933. During this time, the sale, production, transportation, and importation of alcoholic beverages became illegal. What began as a way to bring drinking culture and crime rates down, actually caused gang activity and crime to skyrocket. As a result, establishments that illegally sold alcohol, called speakeasies, began popping up around the states.
The term “speak-easy” was first coined in the late 1880s when a newspaper published that speakeasies are “so called because of the practice of speaking quietly about such a place in public, or when inside it, so as not to alert the police or neighbors.” The speakeasies were hidden sections of establishments that existed to illegally sell alcohol.
Gangs were often involved in the activities of speakeasies, as it was the gang members who supplied the liquor. In order to work around prohibition laws, liquor was transported to the speakeasies using a variety of different methods. Flasks, coconut shells, hot water bottles, egg shells, and even garden hoses were used as ways to avoid getting caught. Due to the poor quality of liquor served in speakeasies, classy cocktails of the early 1900s vanished and an increase in the enjoyment of hard liquor such as gin and moonshine became more common.
What Happened Inside of a Speakeasy?
To enter a speakeasy, one would need to provide a password at the door. This would ensure that the individual who wished to enter was not involved in law enforcement. Often times the operator of an establishment would charge those who wished to enter a fee to see an attraction (like a circus animal) and then would offer a complimentary beverage. In this way the operators were able to work their way around the prohibition laws. Speakeasies often featured jazz bands and dancers called flappers who would provide entertainment and music throughout the night.
The Language of a Speakeasy
Individuals who worked for or visited speakeasies in the 1920s often had code words that they used to keep the speakeasy a secret. The code words helped to keep the illegal establishments under wraps from the police and other authorities. Some of the code words used to talk about alcohol and speakeasies included:
- panther sweat (liquor)
- tarantula juice (liquor)
- coffin varnish (homemade liquor)
- hooch (liquor)
- blind pig (used to describe a speakeasy)
- cellar smeller (an individual who came around only when free alcohol was served)
- frolic pad (a dance club or night club)
- torpedo (a thug or a hitman)
Today, the term “speakeasy” has been revived as a way to describe prohibition-themed cocktail bars or retro bars that often serve more upscale cocktails than those that were served during prohibition.
To learn more about liquor or to purchase your own (legally, of course!) contact Julio’s Liquors in Westborough, Massachusetts. We promise we won’t ask for a password at the door!