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Where To Drink

May 2024
1min read

Everywhere. Nobody knew how many speakeasies there were in New York; one estimate put the number at 100,000 by mid-decade. It cost, said a proprietor, $1,370 a month to stay in business — $400 of it in graft to the feds, the police department, and the district attorneys.

Some speakeasies are disguised behind florists’ shops, or behind undertakers’ coffins. I know one which is entered through an imitation telephone-box.

…Some speakeasies are disguised behind florists’ shops, or behind undertakers’ coffins. I know one, right in Broadway, which is entered through an imitation telephone-box; it has excellent beer; appetizing sausages and Welsh rabbits are sizzling in chafing-dishes and are given to customers without extra charge; drunks are expelled through a side-door which seems to open out into the nether world.…In the poorer quarters many former saloons for the ordinary people have secretly reopened.…

An intelligent lady remarked to me once that Prohibition was very pleasant. “Before it,” she said, “no decent woman could go into a bar, but now nobody is surprised at our being there.”

…There were the speakeasies —the moving from luxurious bars, which advertised in the campus publications of Yale and Princeton, to the beer gardens where the snarling face of the underworld peered through the German good nature of the entertainment, then on to strange and even more sinister localities where one was eyed by granite-faced boys and there was nothing left of joviality but only a brutishness that corrupted the new day into which one presently went out. Back in 1920 I shocked a rising young business man by suggesting a cocktail before lunch. In 1929 there was liquor in half the downtown offices, and a speakeasy in half the large buildings.

They told me of a new speakeasy on the top of a high Fifth Avenue building. I was invited to the opening on the first night, a quiet domestic affair, just the bootlegger’s friends.…

It was facing Madison Square Garden, a roof-runway with attic-rooms extending from Fifth Avenue to the next street, a distance of some two hundred feet. A young Irishman and his wife are at home to his thirsty well-wishers.…

The air is fresh and there is a marvellous exhilaration as one walks the roof. One is standing above New York, above business, above the law. Pat and I asked for bacardis and were brought as well a long drink of “velvet.” There was a ruddy Virginia ham and the proprietor’s wife brought us some of that too. That was hospitality; all drinks and all food were “on the house” this first night. Next time we come in everything will cost a dollar.

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