Alcohol in America
Speakeasies during the Prohibition in New York City
On January 16th, 1919 the Eighteenth Amendment was passed. This prohibited the transportation, sale, and production of liquor within the borders of the United States. This act had many unintended consequences: one of them being the rise of speakeasies mainly in major cities. With the evaporation of the big saloon came the birth of speakeasies, mostly hole-in-the-wall establishments that served illegal liquor. Many of these were basement apartments or storefronts with painted windows. An interesting note about speakeasies was that for every legitimate saloon that was closed as a result of prohibition, half a dozen speakeasies were opened. Among other illegal ways, speakeasies served as one of the many ways people obtained illegal alcohol during the 1920’s and early 1930’s. People felt it was their patriotic duty to drink, because they felt, by making alcohol illegal, the government was taking their liberty away. With this civil duty fueling the fire of intolerance during this period, speakeasies flourished. It was estimated that by the mid-1920’s that there were over 100,000 speakeasies in New York City alone. Patrons in New York City during this time said that there could be a glass of liquor bought in any building on 52nd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, if you knew the password, of course. It was the job of many a Federal agent to find these speakeasies and shut them down during Prohibition (however, they did take bribes). Although speakeasies were illegal and dangerous to operate, there were many benefits to the owners that took these risks. One of the benefits was that a speakeasy could net its owner a large sum of cash. However, speakeasies were extremely expensive to operate. Of the almost 1400 dollars spent to operate a speakeasy in a month, over a third of it was spent to keep Federal Prohibition Agents, police officers, and the New York District Attorney from...
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